Fight for social housing! RCG takes to the streets and estates

Over the weekend of 18/19 June, the RCG and its supporters in London were active on numerous events in defence of social housing. In many ways what we experienced reflected the rift that is opening up in the housing movement between those stuck in a path of parliamentary pressure and safeguarding a relationship with the Labour Party, on the one hand, and new forces involved in struggle, many on working class housing estates across London whose immediate enemy is… that same Labour Party.

The march called by the Axe the Housing Act movement was a straightforward and sterile affair, consisting of a few hundred activists who gathered at Hyde Park corner in Central London. Some people within the movement had called for the march to go to Savills estate agents, whose headquarters is is located near the start of the march. Savills is currently involved in the sell-off and valuation of thousands of council homes, and the estate agent of choice for Labour councils such as Lambeth and Southwark. Savills works with Labour mayor Sadiq Khan, Housing Minister Brandon Lewis and others involved in drawing up housing policy for London. But in the event the route of the march took it through empty streets to an equally empty Parliament Square. The RCG marched with a noisy, militant contingent from the Focus E15 campaign, which heckled the speaker from Southwark Labour council over its sell-off of nearly 8,000 council homes. Comrades from Focus E15 and the RCG spoke on the platform, exposing the role of Newham Labour council – and called on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to take a principled stance opposing austerity rather than writing to Labour councils instructing them not to set no-cuts budgets.

Some of us then left to join the UCL Rent Strikers who have won a partial victory in their long campaign against unaffordable rents for students. Essentially, the University has paid off much of their arrears – a real victory, but it is clear action will be needed in the future to force the private student accommodation companies to actually lower their rents. They looked great walking down the road - with red flares, red balloons and lots of banners! We all marched to Savills, made speeches and held a rally. The end came when a red flare was thrown on the road to mark the students’ victories.

Many other RCG comrades across London took part in the Open Gardens Estates ( organised by Architects for Social Housing (ASH). This event – encouraging people to visit local housing estates, particularly those under threat of ‘regeneration’ and demolition, and supporting the residents who are fighting back, was a stark contrast with the march.

On Central Hill in Lambeth, comrades ran a stall and a puppet, show. The puppet of councillor Matthew Bennett (‘I am not in the pay of Savills… I am not the puppet of Savills’) was particularly popular.

ASH presented its alternative plans for the estate that would keep it in the hands of the current residents – against Lambeth’s plans to regenerate, demolish and rebuilt for private sale.

The mood was festive but determined – the fight for Central Hill is far from over.

Other comrades joined those fighting to save Tidemill Gardens in Deptford and Cressingham Gardens in Brixton, both in south London as well as Somers Town in north London, where residents are fighting plans for a private 25-storey tower block to be built in the middle of their green space, with the loss of a community garden and 40 trees. Ultimately, it could also face demolition because of plans to build the high-speed HS2 train route and Crossrail. Camden Labour council has said it can only pay for the refurbishment of local schools if it pushes ahead with this private development.

Open Gardens Estates was a small step showing the kind of movement that is needed if we are to prevent the destruction of council housing – and build a real movement to fight the Housing and Planning Act. It has to be built amongst the communities affected and it has to be willing to challenge the Labour councils where they are spearheading the destruction of our homes and, from next year, implementing the housing act. The RCG is committed to building that movement.