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From: The Socialist issue 903, 25 May 2016: Tories in crisis - we can get them out - vote to Leave the bosses' EU

Search site for keywords: Housing - Tories - Pay - Poll tax - Councillors - London - Council - Rents - Planning - Tenants - Islington - Homelessness - Camden - Homes

We won't move! Mass resistance can defeat the Tories' housing act

Housing demo, London, 13.3.16, photo James Ivens

Housing demo, London, 13.3.16, photo James Ivens   (Click to enlarge)

Paula Mitchell Socialist Party London regional secretary

The Tories' Housing and Planning Bill is now an Act, to be implemented in April 2017.

After months of lobbying lords and MPs, a few minor concessions have been made. Pay to stay (in which higher-earning council tenants will have to pay market rents) will now kick in at a slightly higher income level. The length of tenancy councils can offer has been increased to up to ten years from five.

But the essence of the bill remains. Through a series of measures (including enabling rents to rise to market or near-market levels, ending lifetime tenancy, deregulating housing associations, demanding councils sell 'high-end' homes and demolition) they aim to end social housing.

The Tories' vision is for housing to be entirely private - ownership and rent - with only a tiny amount of council housing as a temporary safety net for those in extreme need (of course, homelessness is increasing even before this social crime takes place).

The Kill the Housing Bill campaign set up last autumn is now renamed Axe the Housing Act. Another national demo has been called for 18 June.

A 100-strong meeting of housing activists met on 21 May to debate what needs to be done next.

Socialist Party members have long argued that the Tories' housing plans can be beaten by mass resistance. At the meeting, we referenced the anti-poll tax campaign in the late 1980s and early 1990s - a campaign of mass civil disobedience in which 18 million people defied the law and refused to pay the poll tax, led by the Socialist Party (then known as Militant). We explained that the victory was due to working class organisation at a local level, through anti-poll tax unions, going up into regional and national organisation in the All-Britain Anti-Poll Tax Federation; and a clear lead - "we won't pay". The slogan 'can't pay, won't pay' was popularised.

In the Socialist Party in London we have raised the idea of 'we won't move' around which mass resistance can be organised. When the rent goes up, we say 'we can't pay, but we will stay'. When they come to demolish or socially cleanse our estates, we say 'we won't move'. There is a year ahead to popularise the idea of 'we won't move' and encourage people to get organised on their estates and streets.

This was well-received among housing activists in the meeting, but it hasn't been adopted as a key slogan of Axe the Housing Act, so Socialist Party members will continue to popularise the idea. We will go large with 'we won't move' on the 18 June demo and have called a We Won't Move meeting on 21 June for anyone who wants to discuss it further and start to get organised. See http://wewontmove.blogspot.co.uk for more.

There has been ongoing discussion in this body about the role of councillors. Socialist Party members have consistently argued that the campaign should put demands on councillors.

Councils have resources and communication systems which means they can reach masses of residents and could use that position to help build up a mass campaign. It is good that a couple of councils in London (Islington and Camden) have called big meetings - when they do, because of their authority, hundreds of people come.

But we argue that we must put demands on these councillors to refuse to implement the act. In the poll tax battle, there were delegations, lobbies and even mass invasions of council chambers calling on Labour councillors not to implement the poll tax. But they did, dragging thousands of people through the courts. We don't want that to happen again - don't implement the act, join with us and help build mass resistance.

We are very pleased that the meeting on 21 May agreed to put demands on councillors and to call on them not to implement the act. It was also agreed to write to new Labour London Mayor Sadiq Khan to call on him to use his position to coordinate resistance of councils.

Housing associations could be the first scene of a fight, as the imposition of 'pay to stay' is voluntary for them. About 60% of social housing in England is housing association. Pressing them not to use 'pay to stay' must start now.

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Article dated 25 May 2016

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