Housing: racism and poverty in Glasgow

‘The housing shortage is no accident; it is a necessary institution and it can be abolished together with all its effects on health, etc only if the whole social order from which it springs is fundamentally refashioned.’  Engels

In May 2008, for the first time in 20 years, Glasgow City Council forcibly imposed a closure order on a private property. Infested with cockroaches, damp, with no heating or hot water, sinks unconnected and no working toilet, the two-room tenement flat was home to a Slovak Roma family of four adults and seven children.

The owner, Mohammed Aslam, is reported to rent out around 60 slum flats in south Glasgow. Many are in Govanhill, a traditional working-class area that has seen generations of immigrants – Jewish, Irish, Asian. In the past two years, Roma migrants have settled there, fleeing persecution and unemployment. Despite what the tabloids, might say, far from taking up social housing, the new immigrants have been largely forced into squalid, overcrowded, privately-owned slums. There are 600 private flats in the area below tolerable standard. Anne Lear, of Govanhill Housing Association told the Glasgow Herald of people ‘paying up to £650 a month for an unimproved flat that might have cockroaches, rats, bed bugs or a leaking roof, or where the cooker has to be used in lieu of heating’, comparing conditions to slum deprivation of the 1960s. Many homes are tied to employment and if work dries up accommodation is withdrawn and migrant workers are thrown on to the street.

Govanhill housing conditions have been a problem for a long time, with decaying closes, leaking roofs, smashed windows, piles of rubbish, rats and open sewage pipes. Housing associations have carried out repairs on 2,000 flats in recent years, but many are falling back into disrepair. In a familiar pattern, the anger of white and Asian residents over growing poverty and inequality is increasingly directed towards the new immigrants. Outside of the city centre, Govanhill had the highest number of racially motivated attacks in Glasgow for 2006/7.

With fewer people able to afford to buy property as credit tightens, and with an oversupply of larger, middle-class flats, rents for one and two-bedroom flats have shown the highest monthly increases ever. Dozens of massive tower blocks are being demolished, with not nearly enough social housing to replace them. Asylum seekers continue to be housed by the council in homes deemed unfit for anyone else, or by private corporations like Angel housing group; but in the absence of any campaign for decent housing for all, the provision of any housing for immigrants remains a catalyst for racism and fascism.

Despite all this, there are examples of anti-racist, working class solidarity. In 2007, asylum seekers and local residents in Pollokshaws, south Glasgow successfully united against attempts to evict and rehouse asylum seekers. Only such united community action can overcome the complete destruction of all social provision for the working class.
Joseph Eskovitchl

FRFI 203 June / July 2008


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