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The occupied Connolly Barracks enters its 15th month

Not content living in poverty during one of Europe’s worst housing crises, ALEX HOMITS leads a crew of young communists to seize an abandoned building in Cork, south west Ireland

IN AUGUST 2017, members of the Connolly Youth Movement (CYM) moved into a derelict block in Cork city centre.

We did so as a form of direct action, where we both received what we needed, housing, while demonstrating the issue to the wider public, undermining the “right” of landlords to deny the homeless homes and calling into question private property itself.

Rather than simply protest, our action was explicitly aimed at denying the landlord class some of its power in a small but significant way.

Up until this point, occupations and squatting in Ireland were, and still are to some degree, directed by mostly anarchist or non-aligned tendencies rather than explicitly socialist groups like ours.

While the method is correct, we consider them to lack real political direction or to properly utilise the occupations as a form of political protest rather than promoting a DIY-lifestyle. By contrast we wanted our action not to stand alone or inspire individual responses to the housing crisis but to plug into a wider, mass organised class struggle over the issue.

The house was in a significant state of deterioration. Eight years empty with no care is a long time. Damp walls, mould everywhere, dead wood lice on the floors, rotten couches and furniture. Our entire branch in Cork mobilised together to clean the building and step by step we brought it up to scratch. We cleaned the layers of dust, swept the floors and did the best we could with the mould.

Bear in mind that we also had no electricity, so cleaning properly was a significant challenge.

We lived with no electricity for a while before it was reconnected and, while I can’t comment for legal reasons how or who reconnected it, suffice to say it didn’t last long and led to our first encounter with the Garda and alleged landlord. He had smashed open the front door and ordered the residents to get out.

I returned about fifteen minutes into this incident and simply shut the door on this alleged landlord. He informed us the Garda were on the way and so we mobilised supporters and friends for mass resistance.

Members of Sinn Fein, Labour Youth and Housing Activists Cork attended and we had a small crowd standing outside by the time two detectives from Bridewell Garda Station came. They eventually understood this was a squat and informed us of our rights and to this day, 13 months later, we’ve had no issue with the alleged owner and continue to enjoy all that a rent-free life offers.

At first that might sound financially appealing or even glamorous, but living by candle light and LED lamps with no electricity is difficult, especially during winter. Is it worth lowering your living conditions to demonstrate that, even without electricity, housing occupations are practical form of political action?

The answer is a resounding yes. The stature which the Connolly Youth Movement has gained and its increased capacity to provide leadership to other housing groups and activists has been immensely positive. We have effectively made a small victory for us into a victory for all other housing activists, demonstrating what is possible, inspiring similar actions elsewhere and raising the ambition and morale of the movement.

Where is the CYM at now with the barracks? We have a gym and an immaculate house that we show to other political activists as an example of what can be achieved. Trying to escape the conceptions of what a “squat” is in modern Europe, we call our home a barracks, with agreed rules (https://cym.ie/connolly-barracks/principles-of-connolly-barracks).

By introducing and proudly announcing our set of rules, we have, of course, raised the ire of the ultra-left and anarchic subcultures that consider squatting part of their political territory. This is no mistake on our part — we consider it necessary for working class activism to be disciplined and organised for the simple reason that the ruling class is disciplined and organised.

If housing occupations are to become part of the working-class movement again, they must be too.

Today we are examining further actions around housing and derelict buildings in Cork City, while tying them into tangible victories for young workers and students in other struggles.

We have been in touch with the ACORN community union on the establishment of a tenant body and will use the knowledge we’ve gained around property law and our first-hand experience of activism to create an organisation in Cork capable of defending people before they end up without a home.

Alex Homits is general secretary of thr Connolly Youth Movement. 

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