Peoples Dispatch spoke to Alexander Homits, general secretary of the Connolly Youth Movement (CYM), regarding their protests for affordable housing at cork and other interventions. CYM is an all-Ireland youth organization affiliated to the Communist Party of Ireland but operates independently of the CPI. Internationally, the Connolly Youth Movement is affiliated to the World Federation of Democratic Youth.
On May Day, in the Irish city of Cork, the CYM interrupted an event attended by the Irish Republic’s prime minister, claiming that the policies of Fine Gael government, especially in the housing sector, have been destroying the country. Irish cities have been facing a major housing crisis and people have been staging a series of protests, demanding affordable housing as the crisis escalates in Irish cities.
Peoples Dispatch (PD): Your intervention at the Fine Gael meeting at Cork on May Day was major news. What are the factors that prompted Connolly Youth Movement to opt for such a campaign on May Day?
Alexander Homits (AH): The factors that prompted us rather simple. In capitalist society, in social democratic society, there is a framework to express yourself. We believe that framework is prohibitive and not truly democratic in nature, meaning that expressing ones distaste for policies conducted in Ireland and making the State hear you is extremely difficult. What usually happens is that ministers or parliamentarians will “hear out” what you have to say before disregarding it. We ensured that not only was the government listening but the entire nation and I believe in this respect, we succeeded.
PD: What is your take on the policy of the Leo Varadkar and the Fine Gael government in addressing the housing crisis?
AH: Our take is that we do not really care what sort of verbal announcements they make to the media. They are liars. Simon Coveney, the Deputy Prime Minister/Tanaiste promised in 2017 to house everybody in emergency accommodation by July 2017. He didn’t and walked away from the portfolio into another position. Members of Fine Gael state that their policies are working but the statistics regarding poverty and increase in the amount of people that are homeless tell a different story. Only a few days before May Day, Ireland hit record statistics for the amount of people who are homeless and then the day after, Minister for State Damien English was quoted stating that the housing policies are working.
PD: What your take on the impact of the current government’s policies on youth and students in Ireland?
AH: The impact on the youth, students and non-students alike has been devastating. Students often have to go through deprivation in order to study, many live on couches in their friends homes or commute incredibly long distances to their places of study. When austerity was unrolled against the people of Ireland, the grant system was also attacked which further deteriorated the income students had while studying. Students struggle throughout their degrees and then graduate. Upon graduation, many of the high paying jobs that were promised are nowhere to be seen. Young people who are highly qualified are working low pay service sector jobs. Nurses and teachers are migrating and people who do not have any qualification are off worse of all. The cost of living continues to rise, worker productivity continues to rise and wages stagnate. The winners in this situation are the landlords, the employers, the vulture funds and of course their lackeys that facilitate them.
PD: In your opinion, what is the pulse among the young generation in the Ireland regarding the Irish question?
AH: Anger, frustration and a feeling of powerlessness. That feeling of powerlessness has turned young people from participating in the limited form of democracy on offer to them, voting. Voter turnout continues to decline in all parts of the country among young people. The reason for that I think is rather simple – voting does not have any meaningful impact on their life, it does not improve their life, it does not yield material benefits as often the candidates who run promise it will. The left has by and large failed to engage with the youth of Ireland on socio-economic inequality and the question of class. While social issues become popular, class issues rarely go anywhere. The leftist parties in Ireland use young people, either to canvass on their part or pose in photoshoots. Rarely do they ever offer young people the agency they deserve, the empowerment and the political power. A survey in 2016 conducted among 50,000 young people asked a question: “Would you participate in a revolution tomorrow?” and over half said yes. This indicates to me and to us that the anger is there, but there is no clarity or guidance to that anger. Those who can migrate simply leave, others just work, rent and try to get by.
PD: Please give us a brief description of the major interventions made by Connolly Youth Movement in politicizing the young generation in the Irish Republic and North?
AH: The strategy of the Connolly Youth Movement is based on a few key pillars.
Education – Key to our existence, development and growth is a rigorous and continuous education programme that explains to young people why they are being stripped of opportunities, dignity and wealth. As Lenin stated, without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary action. We deliver revolutionary theory in an accessible form so that young people can connect it to their conditions. I think this is one of the key aspects to our interventions in Irish society.
Trade Unions – It is a constitutional requirement for Connolly Youth Movement members to be trade union members. The reason for this is simple – trade unions are broad, organizational vehicles that highlight and exemplify the interest of the working class in the most direct of forms. What we do is we attempt to organise union campaigns, educate young people on the importance of trade union membership and unionise young people. We’ve organised protests, pickets and various campaigns in that form with regards to all manners of places. Some notable ones include Gloria Jeans, Abtran and Claire’s Accessories but we maintain an open door and when young people come to us with their problems at work – we try to not only solve them but also steer them into union membership.
Housing – This is a broader question and our most visible act of disobedience has been an almost two year occupation of an idle/derelict building in Cork City Center dubbed ‘Connolly Barracks’. We have held this building in order to facilitate accomodation for the members of the Connolly Youth who would otherwise have nowhere to go. As a second element to this, we consider squatting / adverse possession a positive action against capital and against landlords. There is a housing crisis in Ireland, there are thousands of empty buildings (180,000). To us the solution seems simple, to the capitalist class the solution is to maintain scarcity and ensure cost is high. Using this occupation we’ve highlighted homelessness and also spoke of the solution: universally accessible public housing. In doing this we popularized the politics we stand for and put a challenge out to other leftists in Ireland to follow us in occupying buildings as a form of protest. Finally, in more recent times, our members are participating in the establishment of tenant unions or assisting existing ones. Why tenant unions? Much like trade unions, the homeplace is one of the sharpest points of contradiction.
National Question – We consider Ireland to be under the triple lock of imperialism. The first and most obvious act of colonial injustice is the partition of Ireland which seeks only to divide the working class of Ireland and ensure the interests of finance capital are observed. A divided working class in Ireland can never achieve Socialism. The second lock of imperialism is that of the United States, which continues to exercise tremendous influence on the Irish economy. Ireland is filled with American chain stores, American multinationals and American culture. Ireland serves the interest of capital by providing a compliant non-union workforce and a deregulated tax system. Thirdly, we are politically and economically compliant to the interests of the EU and therefore EU capital. As I write this, the people of Ireland have had an odious and unjust European debt thrust upon them. Franco-German banks flooded Irish banks with credit and when the crunch came they pulled. What did the Irish State do? They guaranteed the debts of these banks and therefore their creditors, shifting the burden of debt from those who had gambled, speculated and lived lavish lifestyles to the workers. We’re still paying, even though realistically we shouldn’t be. This is why the National Question has so much prominence, but there is another reason.
Ireland unlike every other Western countries has never been a powerful, industrialized capitalist and then imperialist country. It has always been and still is a colony and therefore the contradictions of social relations are sharp and profound here.