The Community Action Tenants Union – An Organisation of People’s Power

CB, Béal Feirste

In the last two years in Ireland, the Community Action Tenants Union (CATU) has emerged as a real force on the side of renters and the community across the island. Anybody who is serious about building real power and solidarity in the community should certainly join. Every person that joins the union is building power by virtue of joining, whether they decide they want to be an activist or not. The strength of the Union depends on its members, and its members alone. The members make the Union. In fact, membership is open to everyone, unless you are a member of the security forces or a landlord! The union is defending its members everyday, and already has many wins under its belt. These are real wins for real people, and there is no room for do-nothing performative action. Performative action achieves exactly nothing.

The concept of a community union is a new phenomenon in Ireland. We have had housing groups and similar organisations in the past. However, they have either lost momentum or become inactive, lacking in certain key areas, whether it be lacking organisation, losing momentum, or other commitments in life simply getting in the way for activists. This is not to say that dedicated activists failed, as that would be a wrong and entirely incorrect view, it would also be insulting to the people and time invested. Rather, past housing groups and grassroots community groups laid the solid foundation on which CATU is built.

The idea of CATU is a union outside of the workplace. An organisation that is built by the community to organise and fight for the community’s interests. The scope is extremely large. Primarily, CATU is involved in the housing struggle because it believes that real power lies in the hands of ordinary people when they unite together to defend their interests against those that exploit our communities and turn housing into a mere commodity. Ordinary people, organised, united, and standing ready to fight for their interests scares the living daylights out of exploiters and those who take their trust for granted. The statement that real power lies in the hands of ordinary people is entirely correct. Only the people make history. It is not made by certain individuals, personalities, any party or movement. Every single victory for human progress belongs to the people and them alone. It is important to understand these facts before any serious discussion of a mass movement can take place. When ordinary people are organised and united, mountains can be moved.

Housing has always been a major issue in Ireland. What has changed? Whether it be rural farmers, evicted during Britain’s genocide in the 1840s, or the squalid housing conditions of 20th century Dublin, sectarian housing discrimination in the six counties, or the current housing crisis, housing has always been a central problem here. We aim to break this cycle of crisis and suffering in Ireland, and will certainly do so in our lifetimes. Any doubts must be severely cast aside, otherwise we will never succeed in achieving housing justice in Ireland.

We should be under no illusion however that achieving housing justice will be at all easy, or a walk in the park. Why would a landlord hand over their vast power to the community? To the landlord there is no logic here. Why would the landlord sacrifice their interests to the renters they exploit? Asking nicely is an outdated thing and no longer relevant. Asking nicely for better conditions achieves nothing. Hard work is required. Real work entails going out and talking to people, finding out their problems and understanding their situation. James Connolly, in 1913, wrote: “I have always told our friends in Great Britain that our fight in Ireland was neither inspired nor swayed by theories nor theorists. It grew and was hammered out of the hard necessities of our situation.” This is why CATU members regularly set up stalls, door-knock, talk to people in the street, and work together with other organisations serving the community. Talking to people is the only way to find out what is actually going on. Linking up with organisations in the community is necessary. Patterns need to be identified and studied, then action will become clear. There is no magic universal formula for action, it has to be developed.

Solidarity is also a very important aspect of CATU. Solidarity is a real thing, and that should always be emphasized. It should be the cornerstone of our thinking if we believe that we must be organised. Without solidarity there is nothing. How would anything ever be achieved if we constantly policed each other and put each other down? We need to kill the peeler in our heads and start practicing solidarity; in our workplaces, in our communities, and in our organisations. Solidarity means understanding that we’re all very flawed. This is because we are human beings. Human beings make mistakes and life is a messy process. The road is never straight and narrow. Solidarity is a beautiful thing, because it involves human beings supporting each other to do good with and for each other. Solidarity involves uniting together as human beings, and fighting for dignity. We should never forget solidarity. The basis of any new society will be based on this concept. Every single victory achieved by the members of CATU across this island has been achieved with solidarity at the core. Every action taken by CATU is driven by solidarity. By extension, every single victory in the working class movement has been achieved on the basis of solidarity.

Of course, not everyone who joins CATU wants to be an activist. There is nothing wrong with this. Most people don’t want to be activists and that is normal. A lot of the time activists behave as if they know more than people, and often find themselves talking down to people who would otherwise agree with them. Such behaviour is criminal and is detached from reality. It is also the complete opposite to practicing solidarity. Activists do not have a magical right to people’s ears, that has to be earned through action. People might join for a variety of reasons. The most certain thing is that they will instantly become turned off by some ‘activist’ talking down to them as if they were a child. Activists have to recognise that people can understand their own situation. Activists are a small minority of the population. Its important in CATU to be patient with people and take them as they are. That is solidarity in practice, and how real power is built.

Earlier I wrote about the importance of putting in work. An important aspect of CATU is community work. In communities there are many different organisations that have organically appeared in response to problems and issues in the community, or to provide a service. CATU members talk to, work with, and get involved with other community organisations and groups to the best of their ability. Getting involved in community life is a very important aspect and is essential to building power and uniting people in the community. Community organisations, and the people that work in them are real life heroes. They are the lifeblood of the community. This was especially evident during the pandemic when thousands mobilised themselves at great risk to their own and their families’ health to serve their community and come to the aid of vulnerable members of the community. Community activism is an indispensable part of CATU. It is CATU’s lifeblood.

In conclusion, it is fair to say that the housing situation in Ireland in grim. What other conclusion can be reached after centuries of underdevelopment and exploitation? But we are clear that we are not struggling for crumbs, or silly concessions that can be revoked years later. We are struggling for everything – and we will have everything. Organisations such as CATU are a bright light of a future, a future we must all build together.

“Be moderate,” the trimmers cry,
Who dread the tyrants’ thunder.
“ You ask too much and people fly
From you aghast in wonder.”
’Tis passing strange, for I declare
Such statements give me mirth,
For our demands most moderate are,
We only want the earth.


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