Defend the Counihans! Housing for all!

The Counihan-Sanchez family from the South Kilburn Estate in London have been made homeless by Brent council and served with two eviction orders. In 2010 the family declared £18 a week income from a small plot of land they had inherited in Ireland. They heard no more about it but 18 months later, Brent declared the Counihans had made themselves ‘intentionally homeless’ and demanded the repayment of £46,000 Housing Benefit.

The council has refused to reinstate Housing Benefit or find social housing for the family, ignoring doctors’ letters stating that long journeys to school are having a disastrous effect on the youngest of the five Counihan-Sanchez children, four-year-old Vinny, who has autism. Brent is refusing to take responsibility for the family or for all the mistakes that it has made, and is blaming government cuts. It seems that the council is pursuing a policy of social cleansing of working class families, pushing them out of the borough to save money. Brent housing department has told the family they should go and live in an empty field in the west of Ireland without sanitation, from where Anthony could apparently commute to his job as a bus driver in Cricklewood, west London.

After months of inaction from the council, the family decided to launch a public campaign. A public meeting on 14 August agreed to establish an open campaign to support the family and others fighting the cuts in Brent. It was also agreed that there was a need for direct action, including the occupation of council offices, to force Brent to act. The Counihans and their local supporters have been to the fore in taking direct action, such as a spontaneous march on the Kilburn High Road, protests at a meeting with Glenda Jackson MP (who had told the family that they should move to Wales) and an occupation of the council chamber on 10 September. To date they have had no support from Labour Party councillors or MPs, although Conservative MP for Ealing, Angie Bray, has written to Brent on their behalf.

There is a marked contrast between the response of the working class families from the estate and that of some ‘left’ organisations in Brent. Brent Fightback (BF) is the ‘official’ anti-cuts organisation in Brent, sponsored by Brent TUC. Although the campaign has had great support from some individuals in BF, the strategy of the leadership seems to be to seek deals with the same councillors who have implemented a massive programme of cuts in Brent to the tune of £41m. The BF organisers seem to think they can work with Brent Council to selectively oppose some cuts, while giving it an easy ride on others. For instance BF invited cutter-in-chief, Brent, council leader Muhammed Butt, as a main speaker at their rally against the closure of the A&E at Central Middlesex Hospital on 15 September.

The Socialist Party and Brent TUSC had opposed the invitation to Butt but were defeated by the Socialist Workers Party and their supporters who insisted that he should speak, despite his appalling record which includes closing seven public libraries and sending in the bailiffs to stop campaigners keeping Kensal Rise library open. On the day of the rally there was a fawning attitude from the organisers to Brent and Harrow councillors, who were all given speaking rights but made no firm commitments to fight the cuts and were not challenged on the massive package of cuts that they have implemented locally.

However, the photo opportunity for Muhammed Butt to pose as an opponent of cuts was destroyed by the questions that Isabel Counihan asked him from the platform. Butt was forced to respond and for a while could not articulate any words, finally coming out with the whopper that he had agreed an action plan with Isabel Counihan and your correspondent Jimmy Mac. This is completely untrue. There has been no action from Brent and no action plan agreed with the Counihan campaign.

The Counihan Family Campaign is organised on the basis of three aims:

1. We demand that Brent Council house the Counihans in South Kilburn.

2. We aim to provide a platform for other people affected by the cuts in Brent.

3. The campaign is open to anyone or any organisation which opposes all cuts in Brent. No selective deals on the cuts.

The campaign has also called on Brent Council to abandon its cuts budget and instead put together a budget to meet the needs of the people of Brent. This could be the basis for a mass campaign involving community groups, political organisations and unions to fight central government for the additional funding required to implement the ‘needs budget’.

FRFI supporters in the campaign are happy to get support for the Counihan family from any quarter but we are among those actively resisting any attempt to allow the campaign to be restricted to alliances with the Labour Party or trade unions. The Counihan family and the anti-cuts movement in Brent can win by mobilising the working class people affected by the cuts in Brent and by working with young people like 15-year-old Sarah Counihan, who have become involved in this political battle. The women of the South Kilburn Estate such as Isabel, Pat, Donna, Tricia, Carol, Tracy and many others, are prepared to use flexible and spontaneous tactics to fight for a better future for our youth. These are the people who can force Brent Council to reverse its cruel attacks on the Counihans and hundreds of other families in Brent.

Housing for the Counihans!

Housing for all!

Jimmy Mac

Forthcoming events include a benefit fundraiser at the Falcon Pub in Queen’s Park on 29 September and a march in Kilburn on Saturday 6 October – assemble Kilburn Square 2.30pm calling for ‘Housing for the Counihans! Housing for all!’

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 229 October/November 2012


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