Monday 17 November 2014

London Housing Crises the New Political agenda of direct activism started by Lewisham People Before Prrofit and the New Model

Community groups such as New Era 4 All are fast becoming the new trade unions

It’s the community, not work, that’s the new site of protest
Sarah Kwei, Comment
Russell Brand lends his support to protesters at the New Era estate in east London last week. Photograph: Jules Annan/Barcroft Media
Last week witnessed another example of a victory secured by organised, grassroots protest. Millionaire Conservative MP Richard Benyon announced that the company he controls would sell its stake in an east London housing estate, where residents had been protesting against huge rent rises. And he exhibited a certain self-awareness when explaining why. “New Era residents have made it clear that they do not welcome our involvement in the future of the estate,” he noted. “They made it clear that they wanted us to pull out and this is what we have reluctantly decided to do.”
While the future of New Era estate is not yet secure, the fact that a women-led group of working-class residents has been able to take on a powerful MP and win is testimony to the power of collective direct action.
Similarly, with the dust settling on the groundbreaking Focus E15occupation, in another part of east London, Newham’s mayor, Robin Wales, announced that around 40 households (out of 2,000) on the almost empty Carpenters estate will now be used as temporary accommodation. There is no doubt that this decision was taken after weeks of intense media scrutiny of Newham’s nonsensical housing policy highlighted by the occupation of a perfectly habitable yet empty block of flats.
What is it about groups such as Focus E15 and New Era 4 All that have taken on potent political and business interests and secured (at least partial) victories? Why have they become radicalised and successful, when we’ve got used to so many hard-pressed people describing themselves as isolated and powerless? (I became involved with the Focus E15 campaign after my mum was threatened with eviction due to constant benefit sanctions and the bedroom tax.)
For answers to these questions, I’ve found myself wondering about the place of trade unions, traditionally the medium through which working-class communities have organised themselves. In another era, dockers or factory workers would arrive at the company gates hoping to get a day’s shift, with half being turned away. Such conditions were a breeding ground for radicalisation and agitation. Contrast this with 2014, when more than 1 million workers exist on zero-hours contracts and are told via texts whether they have work or not. The insecurity of the lowest paid is much the same, but the potential for workers to access one another and organise for something better has been undermined by these increasingly individualising practices.
In addition, most low-paid work is unstable. Workers frequently find themselves performing different roles over several months – perhaps a delivery driver one month, a shelf stacker the next – interspersed by periods of unemployment. With the decline of industrialised Britain, few are able to look to one local company as their most likely source of employment. Such a radically different workplace poses significant problems to traditional forms of worker organisation, especially if most workers will struggle to say who their colleagues are or, indeed, their employer is, from one month to the next.
Perhaps, then, it’s no coincidence that much vibrant opposition is coalescing around housing, a place where neighbours in similar circumstances can share grievances. The original 29 mothers who began the Focus E15 campaign were all given eviction notices on the same day. Their common anguish provided natural camaraderie as they saw the desperation on one another’s faces and decided there were enough of them to fight back and win.
Similarly, with the New Era 4 All campaign and the Guinness Trust AST residents in Brixton, south London, campaigns of resistance have been forged out of a community consensus that everyone is in the same boat and if they – we – stick together, we can win.
Where anti-trade union laws and changing working practices have undermined traditional union strategy, perhaps unions and community groups can support one another by pooling resources and skills.
The most important part of the Focus E15 occupation was its strength as a community-based occupation, run and participated in by residents as much as Focus E15 campaigners. The social space appeared to take away people’s shame, allowing many to talk openly about their forthcoming evictions, sanctions from the job centre and visits to the food bank.
Such conversations have proved transformational as the campaign has evolved in its strategy to support local residents with their evictions. In the past two weeks, Focus E15 campaigners have defended four families as they resisted their evictions, with all four being halted as a result of direct action mixed with acquired expert knowledge.
A winning formula has been developed. Local people mobilise one another to create a physical barrier to protect homes from bailiffs and police while others support a family member at the housing office or in court to negotiate an appropriate solution.
This looks to me like what you might call a community union, one that seeks to use direct action not only to make a wider political point but also to support individual members in need. The Focus E15 campaign is led by local, working-class women who are directly affected by campaigns; it’s not an abstract fight. In turn, the very heart of the campaign has drawn more local people who feel safe in the knowledge that the dynamic is one of mutual aid among equals.
Organising strategies such as those enlisted by Focus E15, New Era 4 All and Guinness Trust could work in tandem with the considerable expertise, knowledge and skills held by more established trade unions. We should get together. A more dynamic and collaborative approach between communities and trade unions could be the key to a new era of unified and powerful working-class resistance.
Join the first direct action group to launch a poltical party direct occupations and activism has lead to Lewisham Council changing housing policy as direct result of People Before Profit comming Second to Labour in many seats in Mays local elections, Beating UKIP, Greens.Torys.Lib Dems, TUSC, Peoples Party for a party only started in 2008 this is amazing and they are on verge of winning first seats in Labour heartlands.
Follow on Twitter@Raywoolford

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