Letters - FRFI 252 Aug/Sep 2016

Peckham residents take on greedy housing association and win

I am a resident in Peckham, south London. I heard about a 20% rent increase being faced by residents of a social housing estate, run by L&Q Housing Association. I got involved to help them fight against this unaffordable demand, initially simply by organising the residents to meet together, as they all felt the same but had not spoken to each other. It became clear that some residents paying the intermediate ‘affordable’ rent were being threatened with an increase that amounted to an extra £300 a month. L&Q is meant to be a not-for-profit housing association, providing low-cost social housing. With housing costs in Peckham already sky high, this rent increase would force many residents out of the area and possibly the city.

L&Q sent a Section 21 notice to tenants, giving them one week to decide whether to pay up or move out within six weeks. The residents took a multi-pronged attack, demanding more time to make a decision while bombarding L&Q with phone calls, emails, tweets and social media posts. They managed to get local media coverage too. At that point two local councillors got involved, arranging for L&Q to attend a residents’ meeting. Typically, no representative from L&Q turned up. Under pressure Southwark council tried to contact the chief executive of L&Q, but even they were fobbed off. Next a member of the London Assembly wrote to the chief executive of L&Q, demanding an explanation for the rent hike. All the while the residents kept up their pressure and confrontations with L&Q.

Finally, on 29 June, the residents of the estate received an email from L&Q stating that after consideration they would not be putting up rents after all and would be discussing rent increases and the intermediate rental scheme with the GLA. This is a major victory for the residents of the estate against their greedy landlord. Hopefully it will strengthen the fight to come against the new Housing and Planning Act and inspire others to fight back.

Eric Ogbogbo
South London

Nina Simone: revolutionary, gifted and black

What happened, Miss Simone? is a new Netflix documentary directed by Liz Garbus. It is about the life of American singer, songwriter, pianist and civil rights activist Nina Simone, who died in 2003. The documentary shows how Nina was battered not just physically by her husband, but through her experience of state racism. As she got older, Simone grew interested in communist thinkers such as Marx and Lenin; she famously once said: ‘We never talked about men or clothes. It was always Marx, Lenin and revolution – real girls’ talk.’

Through being politicised Simone started to write powerful songs to aid the civil rights movement including ‘Mississippi Goddam’ and ‘To be young, gifted and black’. She believed that it was ‘an artist’s duty to reflect the times’. And so she used her platform to speak out for resistance by any means necessary, echoing Malcolm X’s ‘self-defence is no offence!’

The documentary is a reminder of the need to fight against systematic racism, not only in America but also in Britain. In May 2015, on the streets of Kirkcaldy, Fife, a father of two died at the hands of nine police officers. Sheku Bayoh’s death has been surrounded by lies and cover-ups from the start carried out by Police Scotland and the SNP. Decades ago Simone realised that she was ‘a black-skinned woman in a country where you could be killed because of that one fact’. Despite allegedly living in a ‘post-racial’ society, the killing of black people by police happens again and again. We say no more deaths in police custody! BLACK LIVES MATTER!


The impact of immigration laws on health care

I want to highlight the impact of Britain’s racist Immigration Acts on the lives of asylum seekers and migrants.

I met an asylum seeker waiting for leave to remain, and her six-year-old daughter. Her daughter was born in London with medical issues that required specialist surgery and follow-up. The surgery was done in Birmingham Children’s Hospital in 2014. The girl was born in Hackney (east London) and then they were moved to Haringey (north London) then to Wolverhampton (West Midlands) and then back to Hornchurch (Essex). They left Hornchurch in March this year and were sent to Dulwich (south east London) then Wakefield (west Yorkshire) and are currently in a bedsit in Leeds (west Yorkshire). Her daughter has been out of school since March and has never had a hospital follow-up as every time one is organised, they have either moved and don’t get the letter or can’t afford the travel. Their accommodation is provided by G4S, who in 2013 were investigated for their appalling treatment of asylum seekers in housing. Dispersed asylum-seeker tenants were stripped of all conventional tenants’ rights in 1999. In 2013, investigations estimated the G4S part of the national contract handed out by the Home Office for asylum housing at £150m to £200m over five years.

The Immigration Act 2014 made changes to the charging rules for NHS care including introducing a health surcharge. Non-EEA nationals must satisfy the test for ordinary residence and have indefinite leave to remain. Ironically, those judged not eligible for free NHS care, in the sixth wealthiest country on earth, include those struggling to find the money to eat and clothe themselves and their children. I met a Chinese woman, settled in Britain, who gave birth a month ago: she had been sent a £8,884.81 invoice from the hospital finance department for her maternity care. She was tearful, frightened and unable to pay. It later turned out to have been sent in error as she has a British passport but it shows the kind of health care penalties migrants face.

Megan Lapujole
North London

BMA takes stand against racist immigration laws

In June the British Medical Association (BMA) passed the following motions:

‘That this meeting is concerned about the impact of charging migrants for NHS services. We ask the BMA, the BMA council chair and the international committee chair to:

i) run training workshops for BMA members about the influence immigration legislation has on doctors’ clinical practice;

ii) commission a report into the negative impacts of the Immigration Act on patient care and access to health services;

iii) run a public awareness campaign on the value of migrant health workers to the NHS;

iv) engage with other health unions and professional associations to issue cohesive guidance to all NHS staff (including administrative staff) advising them not to partake in any process of monitoring or deciding upon a patients’ migration status.’

I would like to congratulate the BMA for passing these anti-racist motions. The BMA has made an exemplary stand in the face of all the government and media attacks which seek to create a hostile environment for migrants and limit access to basic services such as health care.

There are groups, such as the Migration and Asylum Justice Forum in Newcastle, that are campaigning against the racist 2014 and 2016 Immigration Acts and are demanding decent health care, housing and jobs for all. The BMA’s motions give added ammunition to these demands. All trade unions that represent NHS staff, including administrative staff, should follow suit, and work with migrants, anti-racist organisations, junior doctors and anti-austerity groups like Keep Our NHS Public to drive immigration checks and charges out of health care.

For more information on protests against the racist Immigration Acts see: fighttheracistact.wordpress.com

Mark Moncada

A Spanish political prisoner writes

I’m a 45-year-old Spanish communist political prisoner. I’m serving a sentence because of my militancy with GRAPO (the First of October Anti-Fascist Resistance Group). I’ve been in for 14 years and still have 16 years left.

I recently got your FRFI from a Galician revolutionary independentist political prisoner and I have to say that I got a pleasant sensation about your political work towards the working class social, economic and political issues. That gives me a new outlook on the existence of the class struggle in Britain and Ireland.

I paid special attention to [your writing on] the prison situation, especially to the Close Supervision Centres. I feel quite sensitive about those kind of dark and terrifying wells of torture, niches of impunity and abuse of power.

A few days ago I went to court myself over an alleged act of aggression from me towards four giant jailers in a solitary confinement unit in Seville high security prison. On the day for which I was charged, as you can imagine, I didn’t even have a chance to protect my head from the truncheon beating, as I had previously been handcuffed. The forensic scientist reported 27 truncheon marks on my back, a broken tooth, a broken rib and several boot prints all over my body, including my neck and face. Many cameras recorded the aggression and many other prisoners witnessed it. Nevertheless, the court didn’t take all that evidence into account. Besides, the judge didn’t allow my lawyer to give an account of events.

It goes without saying that Seville’s Council Court didn’t take into account my lawyer’s formal complaint against the jailers, in spite of all the evidence pointing them out as the only attackers.

Here we have a crystal clear example of the Spanish regime inherited from Franco. As you can see, not much has actually changed for the better.

Long live communism!

Marcos Pouce

Picassent Prison, Valencia, Spain

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 252 August/September 2016