Planning to sell off public housing in Derry?


You can always tell when there’s an election just round the corner. Investment announcements, over grinning politicians in the press looking for another go only this time they REALLY promise things will be better. Others hoping to be elected doing all sorts just to get their photograph in the papers, again promising us the moon and the stars. However the gloves are off in Derry’s Bogside as news filters out that a sizeable section of social housing stock, currently owned by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE), now plan to offer them up for sale to private sector housing bodies.

Several hundred residents now fear that private housing associations in the city will totally transform the way in which they have engaged with the Housing Executive over the past four decades. Particularly when it comes to levels of rent and of course allocation of housing which first gave birth to a new generation of street politics and the Civil Rights Association back in the late sixties.

At present in Derry there is an ongoing “consultation process” between the NIHE and local tenants over the possibility of social housing being transferred to private housing associations which first sparked fears of an imminent sell-off.

Operation Dismantle The Housing Executive is said to be run by the Strategic Investment Board (SIB), an unelected body only answerable to the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister over in Stormont. Many understandably view the SIB effectively to be the Stormont Executive’s secret ‘privatisation unit’. Again this is no real surprise as it’s own website explains: "SIB is monitored by the Public Private Investment Unit within the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister”.

As for the Housing Executive itself, well it has a history which is etched deep into peoples memories across the six counties as it was first created back in 1971 out of the Housing Executive Act (Northern Ireland) that followed on from a very lengthy and traumatic civil rights campaign throughout the 1960’s.

Before 1971, the allocation of public housing was the responsibility of local councils across the North and the ‘Northern Ireland Housing Trust’. Up until then, sectarianism was rife within the housing system as shown back in June 1968 in Dungannon, when the District Council was accused of discriminating against a Catholic family for allocating a new council house in the Caledon area to a young single Protestant woman who it was believed, had close links to a local Unionist politician. This incident proved to be a watershed period for the civil rights movement.

It is that history alone which has concerned and enraged many as talk is now widespread in relation to the privatisation of the Housing Executive as a public body. The flurry of activity around the issue by politicians and ‘would-be’ politicians spells only one thing and that’s election time again.

Workers within the NIHE, as voiced several times by a number of trade unions, have over the past number of years expressed their own concerns due to the way in which both general services and workplace conditions have been rapidly declining. Housing stocks across the North have had to wait years to receive even the most minimal level of adjustments, corrections and refurbishments to their homes.

But this isn’t about the sudden ‘concern’ of politicians towards saving social housing and public sector jobs. It’s about elections and their own political empowerment. Elections in the six counties has and probably will remain a sensitive issue for some time to come. However for anarchists, both back in the 1960’s as today, what passes for politics and elections here has always come down to a sectarian head count. Them and us, orange and green, and thats the way the State and those in power would like it to remain.

Any talk of rejecting the electorialism out of hand is still frowned upon. Many still would say that ‘we fought for the right to vote!’ and were ‘beaten of the streets for demanding the right to vote!’ which is true to a certain extent but it wasn’t the only reason. Demanding civil rights or greater freedoms of any sort be it decent jobs, better wages and decent housing was and remains a dangerous thing to do for our class. This has always been the case for working class people for centuries. But is electorialism the answer for creating real conditions for change? For anarchists its not.

Elections has always been a source of dis-empowerment. Electing leaders such as politicians plays directly into the hands of those who control the system that holds us in poverty while they reap the benefits, divide and rule. Electing leaders who tell us that they are better than the last set, or they are even more radical or more left wing is nothing short of farcical. ‘Just elect us, sit at home and we’ll do the rest for you!’ creates widespread passivity in which leaders are elected to act on our behalf. To somehow speak for us and decide what is and what is not in our best interests. Ultimately it pacifies and reduces the power and strength we have as a united class, on the streets or in the workplace.

A unified working class is what the State and Capitalism fear the most. This has been clearly demonstrated time and time again throughout our history. We only have to look at what our power generated on the streets with the civil rights movement of the 1960’s in Ireland as inspired by the developments on the streets across North America. More recently we have examples of similar actions with regards to the Arab Spring across the Middle East and what has been developing across the 26 counties in relation to the Water Charges campaign.

Just as with the reduction of our public services for the elderly recently with their proposed closure of nursing homes to make way for greater privatisation. Stormont Ministers took notice alright when working class communities, Public Sector workers and the relatives of those in care had taken to the streets to demand an end to such Tory policies as practiced by all shades of political power in Stormont. It wasn’t due to any urgent, last minute intervention by some erstwhile politicians who rushed in to save the day.

The current Tory policy being practiced by Stormont to sell-off public housing stock and the NIHE into private hands won’t be stopped in its tracks by politicians in the mouth to an election. It will only be stopped with ordinary grassroots campaigns on the streets by the community, in conjunction with the trade union movement who will face down any moves towards privatisation of our public housing and public sector jobs.

Community and workplace resistance will stop the privatisation of social housing - Not politicians looking for votes!