Almost a month ago, campaigners, trade unionists and others demanding an end to London’s social cleansing of working-class people marched on City Hall demanding an end to property developers’ profiteering. Andy Bain of Islington People’s Assembly explains why we need to march for housing rights:
“If you don’t sign to go your kids are likely to end up in care.”
This sort of threat is now being heard by social tenants in London boroughs with right-wing councils.
Just days before the march 150 people crowded into the Hilldrop Community Centre, Islington, for an event organised by the North London People’s Assembly.
The speakers and audience, whether private tenants, council tenants or leaseholders, were united in condemning the social cleansing threatening inner London working-class communities.
Many who attended promised to be on the March for Homes to City Hall in London.
The Green Party’s Darren Johnson, London Assembly member and chair of the Greater London Authority housing committee, urged the building of a movement to reverse the neoliberal policies that have resulted in housing being prioritised as an investment for profit over being a basic human need.
He called for the end of the cap on councils building council housing and for regulation of rent levels for private tenants, to great applause.
The local Islington executive councillor for housing James Murray was proud of the stand that his council had made against the Con-Dem policies.
They were looking at ways of stopping “buy to leave” where developers and rich investors deliberately kept houses empty to profit from the market driving prices up.
Islington Council has many progressive policies, including the building of new council housing, and councils across the country could learn from them.
Speakers from the floor included a barge-dweller who urged tolerance of people who were trying to find a cheap way to live. They need some solidarity when attacked by the media which are looking for community divisions.
The March for Homes has seven key demands:
- Stop demolition of quality council homes
- Control rents
- Cut rents not benefits
- End the bedroom tax and welfare caps
- Stop scapegoating migrants
- Secure tenancies for all
- Build new council homes
Yasmin Parsons of the West Hendon Campaign, one of over 70 estates under threat of demolition and evictions, roused the crowd with her stories from Barnet.
This council is using compulsory purchase orders to force both private and council tenants out.
She emphasised the importance of getting organised and learning about their planning and consultation rights. Otherwise, as hundreds have learned to their cost, they will be removed from their communities.
A representative of the squatter movement, who was at the march with hundreds of other squatters, said this was a fight for the next generation and already there were thousands of young people on the streets.
Local MP Jeremy Corbyn sent a message of support and reported on his efforts to submit a private member’s Bill on capping rents.
Eileen Short of Defend Council Housing said that Communities Secretary Eric Pickles was allowing council estates to be classified as brownfield sites to allow demolition and developments for the rich.
“If we all stick together we will show them what London looks like,” she said.
The number of private tenancies has shot up in London, now standing at around 50 per cent. Particularly worrying is that many of these only have six months’ secure tenancy, meaning that they are less likely to register to vote, and so change the system that is forcing their insecurity.
A Justice Alliance campaigner pointed out that the Con-Dems are restricting legal aid so that when tenants are threatened the legal route is almost impossible.
Ucatt and Islington TUC secretary Mick Gilgun supported the demands of others and called for new council housing and the boost this would give to the construction industry.
(This article originally featured in the Morning Star.)