- Created: Wednesday, 06 August 2014 13:00
- Written by Hannah Caller
On Saturday 5 July 2014, the Focus E15 campaign held its first march through the east London borough of Newham, in protest against social cleansing and in defence of decent affordable housing for all. 200 people, among them members of over 25 organisations, including FRFI, ensured the campaign’s message was heard loud and clear all along the route – social housing, not social cleansing! Local support was overwhelming as passers-by took leaflets and drivers sounded their horns. At East Ham town hall, campaigners stopped to express their anger at the Labour mayor, RobinWales. Individual messages about the borough’s housing crisis were tied to the railings. And, despite harassment from the police ahead of the march about confining it to the pavement, on the day of the event itself there was not a uniformed officer in sight, and we marched proudly in the road – banners and placards held high.
Focus 15 – campaigning for decent housing for all
The Focus E15 campaign was initiated ten months ago by young mothers from the mother and baby unit at the Focus E15 hostel. They were threatened with eviction and offered properties in the insecure private-rented sector as far away as Birmingham, Manchester and Hastings. They were determined to fight to stay in east London and since that day, the campaign has been tirelessly organising against the housing cuts being implemented by Newham’s Labour council.
The march showed the strong links that consistent campaigning has built with the local community and with other organisations fighting against cuts and for decent housing. These include activists from the Carpenters Estate in Stratford, a stone’s throw from the Focus E15 hostel, where hundreds of properties are boarded up and residents have been campaigning for years to stop the planned demolition.
As well as the 5 July march, Focus E15 campaigners targeted Robin Wales at the Newham Mayor’s show on 13 July. They gathered outside the tent full of Newham councillors and the mayor himself and loudly denounced the council’s role in sending individuals and families out of London. Robin Wales was apoplectic with anger, shouting and gesticulating until he had to be led away.
The Focus E15 campaign has been gaining momentum over the last two months, with representative Jasmin Stone and others invited to speak at anti-cuts meetings and on platforms including at the national rally of the People’s Assembly anti-austerity march in Parliament Square on 21 June. The campaign has continued to hold its weekly Saturday street stall in Stratford, and held a session postering over the boarded up doors and windows on the Carpenters Estate with photos of former and current residents of Focus E15 Foyer and the words ‘Houses that need people for people who need homes’. The campaign was even referenced in a cartoon in Private Eye about Southwark council selling off social housing.
United we stand
The campaign is seeking to extend its links with other housing activists and campaigns, such as those around the Aylesbury, Loughborough Park and Myatts Fields estates in south London, the New Era estate in east London and Sheerwater in Woking, Surrey.
Residents in Loughborough Park Estate, run by the Guinness Trust, who are facing eviction after being written out of regeneration plans, have come together to demand local social housing for all those affected. Tenants and leaseholders affected by the Myatts Field North PFI regeneration are campaigning under the slogan, ‘Our health, our lives, our homes’. The scheme aims to build 980 homes where there are currently 477, with the loss of public space. The new houses will each cost around half a million pounds.
In Sheerwater, Surrey, people are fighting back against the threat of demolition of 600 homes out of 1,600 in their village. In Hoxton in east London, millionaire landowner and Tory MP Richard Benyon is leading the consortium taking over parts of The New Era estate. Rents have already risen by 10% and are set to triple. The residents have united in the New Era 4 All campaign to stay in their homes.
In this class war, aimed at driving the working class out of their homes to make way for rampant gentrification and profits for the few, Labour Mayor Robin Wales is no different from Tory Richard Benyon. In October the world’s largest property fair, MIPIM, comes to London. 20,000 bankers, property developers, investors, estate agents, landlords and politicians will come together to discuss how best to make fat profts out of our homes, our communities and our land. Robin Wales attended the MIPIM junket in Cannes last year (at public expense) and hosted a stall with a banner saying ‘East London has arrived’. He might as well have had one lit up in neon reading ‘East London for Sale’. While the poor and vulnerable continue to be expelled from Newham to towns and cities hundreds of miles away, Wales presides over boarded-up council properties left to rot while homelessness rises. With a greedy glint in his eye he eyes up West Ham football ground and the potential for another few hundred luxury apartments at prices unaffordable for the majority of local people.
But campaigns like that of Focus E15 show it is possible to fight back against these robber barons and win. As Focus E15’s Jasmin Stone put it:
‘The key to make a change is to stand together. One voice can be ignored – tens, hundreds, thousands, millions cannot. Unite and never give up. We need so many people united that we can make the world rumble. Housing, education, health care, working wage and all other services need to be protected. Let’s fight together!’
Join Focus E15 campaign on the streets every Saturday from 12-2pm on The Broadway, outside Wilkinson’s, London E15.
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 240 August/September 2014