Focus E15 on the march - No evictions! No social cleansing!

‘This time last year we occupied these four homes, some of the many that were boarded up. We brought them alive and exposed the corruption of perfectly good homes being empty for years. Social cleansing is another method of transferring money from the public sector to the private sector, benefiting landlords. We should not be surprised that many Newham councillors are also private landlords. Housing is being used to manipulate, and intimidate working class people.’

Focus E15 campaigner Jasmin Stone, speaking on behalf of the RCG on Carpenters Estate at the end of the March against Evictions.

On 19 September, the Focus E15 campaign marked its second anniversary with a March against Evictions in the east London borough of Newham. Nearly a thousand people joined the demonstration from Stratford Park to the Carpenters Estate, reflecting the broad range of support the campaign has built with its consistent presence on the streets of east London and its principled resistance to the attacks on working class people by Newham’s Labour council. The Revolutionary Communist Group, which has been key to supporting the campaign since it began, was amongst those leading the march.

Speakers included residents from the Focus E15 hostel, where the campaign began, who now face eviction by 30 November as Newham Council and East Thames Housing Association finally wash their hands of supported living for young people. Newham has one of the worst records in London for rehousing working class people out of the borough. Last year, it moved 423 homeless families out of London altogether. Ghassem, from the Asylum Clinic in west London, showed the need for those fighting for housing to make common cause with migrants who are facing increased racism and discrimination.

During the march, protesters led by Class War briefly occupied the hated yuppie estate agent Foxtons, and, as we passed Newham’s housing office at Bridge House, banners were strung across the entrance, reading ‘No to social cleansing!’ The march ended at the Carpenters Estate, where last year the campaign occupied four houses to expose the scandal of hundreds of council homes lying empty while homelessness increases. Despite the council having been forced to open up some of the houses – although only for short-term, insecure tenancies – more than 400 re­main empty.

Newham is amongst the 15 least affordable areas for private renting in the country, with average private rents for a two-bedroom flat costing tenants up to 65% of their pay. Meanwhile one Newham Labour councillor, with a portfolio of 18 properties worth £4 million, is raking in £19,000 a month.

But hypocrisy from Newham’s Lab­our council is nothing new. Even while launching a phoney public ‘consultation’ with residents about where they would like the axe to fall as Newham sets about making £50 million of cuts in its 2015-2016 budget, Mayor Robin Wales has been busy seeking to line his own pockets. Not satisfied with his £81,029 salary, he demanded and won an extra £10,858 to boost his pension.

As Jasmin said at the end of her speech on 19 September: ‘We cannot rely on the elected people but we can most certainly challenge them, put pressure on them. We need to organise, get on the streets, share information and stand in solidarity and fight for our class. The Labour Party, the Tories, do not represent us, they are not fighting austerity so we need to make this happen.’

Focus E15 campaigners – still fighting for justice

Sam M, one of the young women at the heart of setting up the Focus E15 campaign, is continuing to face harassment and discrimination from Newham council. Despite needing two rooms in her housing association property for her child who stays with her part-time, Sam is being subjected to the Bedroom Tax on the second bedroom, leading to a weekly shortfall in housing benefit and rent arrears. As the arrears mount up, not only do the deductions at source from her benefits mean she is left with no money for electricity, gas and food, but the housing association has moved towards an order for possession and is threatening to send in the bailiffs. As she told the march on 19 September: ‘Social cleansing means destroying families, communities, leaving people with no support network and isolating them. If you are rich, you can move into Newham, if you are poor you are sent out.’ The campaign is fighting to get the arrears cleared and keep Sam in her flat.

FRFI 247 October/November 2015

 

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