We had a marvellous lobby of parliament in defence of council housing on Wednesday of last week. Some 22 city tenants federations, over 45 individual tenants associations, and 85 trade union branches and trades councils united with anti-privatisation campaigns.
Over 1,400 people from all across Britain packed a rally in Westminster Central Hall. They heard leaders of the tenants movement and trade unions put the case for direct government investment in council housing, and demanded a halt to the privatisation of council housing.
Leaders of national trade unions which had sponsored the lobby, John Edmonds of the GMB, George Brumwell of UCATT and Malcolm Wing of UNISON, addressed the rally. George Brumwell said, 'This gathering is a watershed for the campaign. When it comes to privatisation I don't know the difference between New Labour and Tory policy. Fifty years of social progress is going to be wiped out in a lifetime of this government. There is an obsession with privatisation across the world, in the US, the Third World, to put public services in the hands of the rich and greedy. This is the start of the fightback.'
Labour MPs opposed to the government's plans to privatise council housing, including Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn, also addressed the rally. So too did Alan Walter of the Defend Council Housing campaign and Alf Chandler of the TAROE national tenants organisation.
The rally brought the unity between those who live in and work on council housing estates out into the open, scotching the idea that tenants and trade unionists could never work together.
There was a mood that we have the government on the retreat over the issue, and if we keep up the campaigning and the pressure we can win. Splits in Labour-led councils are widening, and several MPs have agreed to make a point of their commitment to council housing in election manifestos. Some are going door to door with campaigners arguing with tenants to vote no to privatisation.
In the run-up to the election tenants and workers can pile on the pressure and force the government to abandon its privatisation plans.
'We've been betrayed'
'Privatisation of public utilities like the railways has been a costly disaster. Why should privatisation of our homes be any different?'
BARBARA McCLURE, Wycombe Hands Off Our Homes
'I've always been Labour but I think Tony Blair is the finest Conservative prime minister there's been. Privatisation is about profit. But we can stop it.'
ALBERT TURNER, Tottenham tenant
'It's betrayal by the government. They seem to be privatising everything. We don't want to lose our homes, and we'll move heaven and earth to fight.'
CHRIS CRONOGUE, Leicester Tenants Federation
'We cooperated with transfer. We believed the guff. Once we were transferred we discovered what we had been told wasn't true. We have been told that we have to face 'tough decisions'-cutbacks in refurbishments or rents will go up. Repairs aren't done. Everything is a disaster. They lie to you.'
NICOLA NIXON, tenant on a privatised council estate, Hackney, London