At a conference heard yesterday, house and property prices were described as the most persistent contributors to the cost of living in Ireland, rather than anything related to Vladimir Putin or sanctions.
Es Derwin, deputy leader of Dublin Borough Council of Siptu, told delegates at the union’s biannual conference in Sligo that housing was perhaps the single biggest problem and “misery” faced by working people.
Important to all of them, he said, it was crucial to the relevance of the trade union movement.
The focus of the conference was workers’ pent-up anger at the cost of building a roof over their heads.
Pay took a back seat as more applications were devoted to housing than any other issue.
Mr. Derwin suggested expressing this frustration in a national demonstration.
The prominence given to housing on the conference agenda is likely to appeal to grassroots and potential new members since so many union conferences are dominated by older and wealthy officials.
Suggesting motions on the housing crisis, Mr Derwin said the state’s homeless population rose by 300 to more than 9,000 in the past month.
“Sometimes it seems like almost everyone in the country agrees with the housing crisis, and sometimes it seems like almost everyone agrees on what should be done about it,” he said. “We must put our house in order.”
He noted that things that were previously “absolutely impossible,” including a ban on evictions, rent controls and “serious efforts to house the homeless” are suddenly “doable overnight” during the pandemic. Delegates passed motions to support a buyback program that would see older people’s homes replaced with smaller one- and two-bedroom homes and apartments in the areas where they live.
They also called for the creation of a cross-party committee with the power to investigate chief executives of local authorities who are “latecomers” to public housing.
Another supported motion aimed at creating a rental committee to represent tenants and introducing rent controls. Another said the recent announcement of Ireland’s newest university in the North West will exacerbate and expose serious shortfalls in affordable student accommodation across the region encompassed by the new Atlantic Technological University.
But whatever the effort, General Secretary Joe Cunningham has pledged to reduce the burden of carrying out normal union work, filing wage claims. He was bearish on inflation and warned that recent dramatic increases would not be temporary.
He denied that wage increases could make things worse if employers across the economy were raising prices to fund everything.
The so-called wage-price spiral has been a concern of Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and ESRI in recent weeks.
Mr Cunningham denied that bigger pay packages could backfire.
“We will not accept the idea that wage increases will further fuel inflation,” he said.
“Inflation is driven by energy costs and transportation fuel. Wage increases will not push them higher because they are set by global markets outside of the state.”
Delegate Jimmy Brennan said it now costs some workers more to go to work than they earn.
Wages were mentioned in a motion calling for the minimum wage to be raised to living wage levels.
A delegate said this has been progressing “at a snail’s pace” despite a commitment in the government programme.
Another delegate said the message this sends is that it is okay for them to make a living below the minimum standards.
Perhaps the biggest verbal missile hurled at Government came from Siptu Deputy General Secretary Ethel Buckley on behalf of pensioners, and possibly a reminder to current Fine Gael Secretary of Social Protection Heather Humphreys that their predecessor has lost her seat.
“Minister, our union is notifying you and your party,” she said. “If you set aside all evidence, if you ignore all opposition, if you despise public outcry and raise the retirement age to 67, you will sign your party.”Political death sentence.”
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/news/pent-up-anger-among-workers-over-housing-crisis-takes-centre-stage-at-siptu-conference-41497200.html The pent-up anger among workers over the housing crisis is the focus of the Siptu conference