March against the Housing Bill, 30 Jan 2016

On 30 January 2016 London branches of the Revolutionary Communist Group joined the March Against the Housing Bill, which went from Kennington to Downing Street to protest the Housing and Planning Bill, the final straw that will break social housing’s back.

The controversial bill will lead to the loss of between 80,000 and 200,000 council houses, a disaster for the working class. With the extension of Right to Buy, the building of ‘starter’ and ‘affordable’ rather than social homes, and market rent being imposed for social tenants with household incomes of more than £30,000 (£40,000 in London), Britain is plunging further into an ever-deepening housing crisis.

We joined protesters at the beginning of the march in Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park. An RCG speaker joined others addressing the crowd, highlighting the need to break with the Labour party and organise ourselves for concrete solutions to the contradictions of capitalism. A Southwark Labour Councillor, Richard Livingstone, tried to suggest that Labour were the party to defend social housing, despite Labour’s disgusting record in relation to the Heygate estate, but the crowd saw straight though his deception and he was heckled off.

The march began with a sustained chorus of chanting, music and samba drumming, creating a lively and energised atmosphere that could not be ignored. During the march Class War tried to occupy a Reeds Rains estate agent on Kennington Road, though was unable due to staff and police blocking the exit. After stopping to observe the attempted occupation to make sure there was no police abuse, the march continued onwards to Whitehall.

Police did what they do best: make it as difficult as possible for protesters to exercise their right to protest. The march was fed round a slalom of fences before being led into an enclosed pen. It was not long before the police began moving people off the road, telling them that they were breaking the law by ‘obstructing the highway’ and threatening arrest if protesters did not comply.

The RCG ran an open mic for anyone who wanted to speak, defending our right to protest. The protesters were eventually penned into a tiny patch of road, defiantly disobeying the police that were breathing down their necks. Unite stewards were joining the police in moving people on. Despite all this, the RCG mic remained open, allowing protesters to articulate their thoughts, feelings and struggles for decent housing as well as wider issues.

By 3pm, the demo began to peter out. As people were packing up and heading home the police made a surprise arrest of a drummer who was packing up his kit. The police claimed that he was suspected of a violent crime on the 31st October, a suspicious charge that the defendant denies. As the police slapped on the cuffs, the crowd surrounded and chanted against his arrest, leading to a confrontation with police, who heavy-handedly pushed people to the floor.

Following the arrest, the drummers, the RCG and the Focus E15 campaign led a demonstration outside Charing Cross police station in solidarity with the arrested. The Focus E15 campaign brought their sound system, which, combined with the samba drumming, could be heard a block or two over and drew crowds of curious passers-by. Eventually, police released the arrested protestor.

The march was very positive. People are angry and energised in opposition to the Housing Bill, many talking on the open RCG mic about taking action themselves. The heckling of the Labour councillor demonstrated that people are recognising that Labour is not a party for working people and is not going to solve the housing problem. The day’s energy needs to be brought back to local communities and focused on organising grassroots resistance to the Housing Bill. No one will do it but ourselves.