The Recession and housing in northern Ireland


The recession in the economy means that working people are having to come to terms with growing house repossessions, below inflation pay-increases, and a steep rise in the cost of living. Meanwhile, property developers and banks are busy using the credit crunch and the downturn in the housing market to get Government bail outs, despite the fact that it was their speculative polices that helped created the mess in the first place.According to Brendan Cunnane, a spokesperson from the Construction and Property Group, the developers will be “asking the Assembly, the Executive, and the local banks as key enablers in the sector, to work with us and resolve those issues by finding a zone of possible agreement to move forward” (Belfast Telegraph 31/07/08).

The serious situation is compounded by the fact that thousands of construction jobs have been lost in the industry over the last year as a result of the greed and ‘risk’ taken by property developers and building contractors.

The ‘risk’ factor and scare-tactics of further major losses in jobs is also being used by developers to force the government to intervene to support them. So much for the success of the “iron will of the market” leading to the trickledown effect.

Yet we are constantly told by the politicians and their lackeys in the rich club to accept the huge profits that they make when times area good as they are the ones who are taking the risks. In fact, it is ordinary workers who support them, whether through the generous tax-breaks handed out by the government or simply through the low-wages and high prices that we lumbered with. Despite the fact that the super rich often have millions tucked away in offshore accounts, hidden from the prying eyes of the tax system, they come running for a bail-out as soon as a downturn hits. Some risks they take.

All this underscores the ethos of capitalism, where equal opportunity only exists for the few. The only risk takers are the vast majority of humanity who are forced to sell our labour and liberty to a boss. It is the employers who reap the rewards of the labour of others through the profits they make.

In addition, working conditions are often poor, with the International Labour Organisation reporting that over 2 million people die each year from workplace accidents and work-related diseases such as those stemming from contact with asbestos.

Despite the housing boom, many people have no access to social or affordable housing, never mind a mortgage. It’s worth remembering that it’s ordinary workers and not property developers who actually go and build the houses.

What can be done? Firstly, the thousands of empty properties across the North could be immediately brought into use and provided to those in need. This requires building a movement from below as it would be futile to rely on the promises our MLAs, many of them are actually landlords themselves. Such a grassroots movement can only be built from below and would link fighting tenant and workplace groups using direct action that will force the Government to capitulate. After all, decent housing should be a basic right and everyone should be able to live in a decent level of comfort. We shouldn’t have to support a small class of parasites who live off the labour of others due to their private ownership of a resource they didn't do anything to create, and don't even use themselves.

In an anarchist society socialised ownership of housing maintained and run by a federation of community/workplace assemblies would allow for people to take control over their own homes; existing owner-occupiers would be able to keep their houses without paying out tens of thousands to banks, and the only people who'd lose out would be the capitalists and landlords but even they'd have somewhere to live.

Sean Matthews

Issue 105 of Workers Solidarity Sept/Oct 2008

[PDF of southern edition of WS 105] [PDF of northern edition of WS 105]