Letters FRFI 260: Grow Heathrow squatters show the way

Grow Heathrow squatters show the way

The Bolsheviks robbed banks to fund their activity. At Grow Heathrow we squat land and source waste food from skips.

Grow Heathrow is five acres of gardens, protest camp and community centre in Sipson – a village where people’s homes would be demolished by the proposed Third Runway at Heathrow. We celebrated our seventh birthday in March.

We aim to be a hub for organising, a base from which action against the Third Runway can be launched and a model for other organising. Key to the successful growth of many modern movements has been a consistent space, held by that movement and open to the public, such as Zuccotti Park in New York or Tahrir Square in Cairo. We aim to be that space for the movement against the Third Runway. Last year we provided a base and logistical support for over 700 protesters taking action against the runway, including mass theatre in the terminals and a bike blockade of the roads.

We have a close relationship with local residents’ associations and campaign groups. Our original members lived in the area for six months before squatting the space, forging these relationships. We were asked to take the site by the local community. The land we occupy had been an illegal dumping site.

Climate change: racist genocide

Climate change is often painted as an issue for white liberals. The World Bank predicts 4°C of warming by the end of the century, which would turn almost all African farmland into desert. Climate change is estimated to cause 150,000-400,000 deaths annually, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. Effects on imperialist nations – both current and predicted – are much less severe.

Greenhouse gases are far more destructive when emitted seven miles up in the air by a Jumbo Jet than when they are emitted near ground level by a car or coal-fired power station. Adjusted for impact at altitude, aviation is responsible for over 11% of UK greenhouse emissions, and is the fastest growing source of climate change globally.

Capitalism has produced a situation where it is cheaper to fly from London to Edinburgh than it is to take a train. 70% of flights are taken by 15% of the population. These frequent fliers have average annual earnings of over £115,000 and fly for leisure more often than for business.

Most flights are unnecessary. If Britain is to reach the climate targets laid out in international treaties to which it is signatory, aviation must be reduced, which means making public transport cheaper. To expand aviation with a new runway – which would suck infrastructure investment away from the north of England – would be ludicrous.

Intersecting struggles

There are two detention centres within walking distance of both us and Heathrow Airport. A large number of deportations occur from Heathrow, and we are often the last point of call for volunteers to take action against a scheduled deportation, given that notification can come a mere few hours before the flight. These deportations have been and can be stopped with the effort of a few people at the airport speaking to passengers and crew. There have also been noise demos to lift the spirits of those in detention and call attention to the existence of these illegal and racist centres. We are currently looking for people who would make opposing deportations and supporting those in detention their priority to join our project.

We have hosted workshops on both direct action and casework by End Deportations. End Deportations is the group who, this year, stormed the runway at Stansted and locked themselves to the wheel of a commercial flight. This ‘chartered flight’ to Nigeria and Ghana aimed to send 70 ‘deportees’ back, many of whom feared for their lives and had claimed asylum.

Life at Grow Heathrow

A significant number of us live at Grow Heathrow full time. Mostly free food and no rent or landlords means we get to put a lot more energy into political activity than would otherwise be possible. We organise through a weekly meeting where we use consensus process. Our organisational structure is loosely adapted from the Occupy Movement. Lots of our members are also members of other political organisations. Given the male-dominated nature of some activist spaces, feminism is a core part of our philosophy.

We regularly host educational workshops for the public on everything from prison abolition, utopian science fiction, bike repair, know your rights trainings, to the Russian Revolution.

Capitalism produces for profit, not to meet people’s needs. As a result a huge amount of good food is thrown away while people go hungry. The UK throws away far more than any other EU nation. 89 million tonnes, 30% of our food. We systematically collect this waste and use it in our communal meals. There is also is a £25 a month ‘basics’ charge paid by everyone who lives at Grow Heathrow to go towards a communal food order.

We do the same for building and other materials which go to waste. Over the years we have built some fairly impressive infrastructure, largely out of reclaimed materials. We have offgrid solar and wind electricity which powers an impressive sound-system for our first-Saturday-of-the-month music nights. We have WiFi and a wood-fired and heated high-pressure shower block. We are open to the public and welcome visitors. Find us on Facebook or check out our website. Like the army, we are always recruiting.

Matt Vere
Grow Heathrow

Tyneside asylum seekers fight overcrowding

A resident of a hostel run by asylum housing contractor JOMAST, who formerly had to share a room with a stranger, has been given his own bedroom after pressure from the Migration and Asylum Justice Forum (MAJF) housing campaign and inspection from Newcastle city council. This victory shows together we can end forced room sharing!

In Newcastle on 22 September members of MAJF protested against overcrowding in properties managed by JOMAST. We had prepared a petition but their management refused to receive it. Perhaps multi-millionaire JOMAST boss Stuart Monk was worried about us making a scene in front of his luxury Jesmond apartments!

The Home Office has contracted out housing provision for asylum seekers to the notorious G4S which has subcontracted private company JOMAST in the north east.

JOMAST is making a fortune whilst housing people in run-down, overcrowded accommodation. It crams multiple families into flats and hostels and unrelated same-sex adults are expected to share bedrooms. Newcastle city council passed a resolution against forced bedroom sharing in March but JOMAST ignored it. MAJF rallied at the council in June to highlight the continued practice and demand the policy be enforced. In response, Councillor Kilgour committed the council to ‘inspect and if necessary take appropriate action in cases of forced room sharing. If a complaint is received, it will be investigated.’ MAJF has knocked on doors, leafleted drop-in centres and is supporting scores of residents, leading to our first known victory. MAJF is calling on other councils to take similar action.

Campaigners are now calling for an end to using Houses in Multiple Occupation to accommodate babies and children in JOMAST’s infamous hostels. The three mother and baby hostels in Newcastle are licensed to accommodate 55 people in 23 rooms. Many rooms are small, with insufficient space for activities vital for child development. Pregnant women are often housed up several flights of stairs; midwives had to arrange for one woman to be moved out of a hostel as carrying her toddler up and down the stairs to her top-floor room caused hypertension. A lack of storage space means kitchen equipment is stored in bedrooms and belongings are stored in corridors. In May a temperature of 35°C was recorded in one of these rooms. Many of the women have anxiety and depression exacerbated by these living conditions.

With the COMPASS contracts for asylum housing currently under review it is vital that asylum seekers and housing campaigners organise to put an end to overcrowding once and for all. The fight for decent housing for asylum seekers is central to the fight for decent housing for all.

One room – One person! One house – One family!

Joe Bower

Don’t stop protesting in solidarity with Grenfell!

On 27 September comrades from the RCG organised a meeting in Ladbroke Grove in solidarity with Grenfell as part of building resistance. We were threatened on social media and told that people are organising locally and don’t need ‘outsiders’. That meeting went ahead and was well attended.

When our comrades heard that that Kensington and Chelsea council had at short notice called a meeting on the same night, we mobilised people to go there to join what we expected would be a large and angry demonstration outside. What a shock on our arrival to find more cameras and press than people protesting and, once those who were going into the meeting had gone in, no protest outside at all.

Comrades of the RCG and members of Focus E15 campaign lent our solidarity to members of One-Voice Community Collective and Westway 23 who refused to be body-and-bag-searched to go into the council meeting. The attitude of the security guards and police was patronising and accusatory. Local residents articulated very clearly their rights to enter the council building and attend a meeting without intimidation.

At the council meeting, the tenants’ management organisation KCTMO – which faces possible corporate manslaughter charges for its role in the Grenfell disaster - was stripped of its right to run housing in the borough. The council leader, Elizabeth Campbell, admitted that only 20 Grenfell households have been permanently rehoused, with the rest still having to live in hotels. Without public pressure, there is no guarantee that anything will change.

It is the responsibility of us all to be part of building a movement to highlight the appalling way Grenfell survivors have been treated, to oppose the destruction of council housing and to hold elected representatives to account.

East London

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 260 October/November 2017