We can stop land grab
A housing emergency is turning into a disaster. House building is at record lows, there are five million on housing waiting lists, street homelessness is up ten percent and those in temporary housing up 14 percent.
The private sector is driving up private rents and mortgages in an unregulated rat race. Up to a quarter of private lets have serious hazards that threaten life.
The government’s vicious cuts to housing benefit are already forcing the under-35s, the low-paid, the sick and the elderly out of their homes. Fixed-term tenancies and 80 percent market rents make housing associations even less of an alternative.
And the housing minister’s answer? To make it worse by giving away public land to private developers.
More subsidies to house builders will not make them build what they can’t sell. There are already empty luxury flats all over city centres—built with public handouts and planning deals.
We need to build public housing on public land—with really affordable rents, secure lifetime tenancies, and accountable landlords. This is not “subsidised” or second class housing—existing tenants have paid for our homes many times over, and created a valuable public asset.
But to do this means a fight to stop councils selling off land or rubber-stamping private developments, with councillors instead reserving the land for public housing, and demanding the funds to build it.
To win tenants’ support, councillors must refuse to attack secure tenancies or allow 80 percent market rents. They should not evict tenants in arrears due to housing benefit cuts—and demand other landlords do not.
This is not a time for hand-wringing. United we can stop this land grab, and win a new council house building programme.
It’s the only way we’re going to get the homes we need—but we have to fight for it.
Eileen Short, Chair, Defend Council Housing
Come to the DCH/Housing Emergency meeting: Tuesday 13 September, 6pm at St Georges Church, Little Russell St, WC1. With speakers from the TUC, Shelter, Unite, tenants and author Owen Jones.
Coalition school dinner snatchers
The government is generously funding and opening up “free schools” for the middle classes.
But at the same time it is cutting local authority budgets so drastically that many are putting up the price of school dinners by up to 25 percent.
At a time when parents will be losing benefits and jobs and having their pay cut and frozen, the poorest will be forced either to not take up school dinners, or to cut family budgets in other areas.
There has been a huge campaign to improve school dinners—and to spend more per pupil.
But, shamefully, still only an average of 67p goes on the food the children get to eat.
Margaret Thatcher privatised school meals in 1980 and became known as the “milk snatcher”.
We need to make sure the current coalition government are remembered for taking essential services away from our children.
Sara Tomlinson, Teacher, south London
Inspiring protests in Chile
I support and admire the brave people demonstrating in Chile against the free market economics imposed on them by the billionaire banker President Sebastián Piñera (Socialist Worker, 3 September).
What began as a protest by young people in the schools and universities has spread to the streets. Those young people have been joined by older generations, workers and the trade unions.
The demands for better access to an affordable education have widened as these brave protesters become more confident.
Now the protesters call for more welfare spending, better pensions and workers’ rights, and changes to the constitution.
This is a direct challenge to the state and its economic regime.
The state has responded with brutality—water cannon, tear gas and riot police, along with mass arrests and the shooting dead of a 16-year old boy.
In the words of Camila Vallejo, the leader of the University of Chile’s students’ union, “We do not want to improve the actual system.
“We want a profound change—to stop seeing education as a consumer good, to see education as a right where the state provides a guarantee.”
Tatiana Acuña, a government official in the ministry of culture, insinuated that the assassination of Vallejo would end the protests.She was sacked.
Chile’s brutal economic polices could only be enforced with equally brutal oppression. This started with the overthrow of democratically elected president Salvador Allende in 1973 by Augusto Pinochet, supported by the US.
President Piñera has form. In 1982 an arrest warrant was issued against him for violation of Chilean banking laws.
And in 2007 he was fined more than half a million US dollars in an insider trading-like scandal.
His estimated personal wealth is $2.5 billion.
We must hope the people on the streets prevail. Their struggle is our struggle.
David Quigley, South London
‘Precariat’ or not, young people suffer
Kevin Doogan’s article (Socialist Worker, 23 August) throws the baby out with the bathwater.
It is not at all helpful in analysing the specific pressures on young people in contemporary capitalism.
It is also too concerned about refuting the claims for a new class of precarious workers.
We do not need to accept the “precariat” theory—which started with André Gorz’s book, Farewell to the Working Class, 30 years ago—to admit that across the globe young people face intensified alienation.
In the contexts of education, housing, employment and religious and sexual civil liberties, young people are trapped.
This intense claustrophobia explains many outbursts—from the Arab Spring to Britain’s recent disturbances and the brilliant fightback taking place in Chile.
But it is true that existing labour movement and trade union organisations are too brittle and arcane to cope with their demands.
Socialist organisations also have to work very hard to win the complex ideological arguments that young people reflect.
This topic deserves a series of detailed articles in Socialist Worker, not a one-off and confused piece.
Nick Grant, West London
Give Boris boot for Spurs FC cash
Tottenham in north London has over 6,500 jobless and some of the worst poverty in the country—but not everyone is hard up.
Spurs football club reportedly turned down a £40 million bid from Chelsea for a leading player, Luka Modric, at the end of August.
Indeed, Spurs are one of the richest soccer outfits in Europe.
London mayor Boris Johnson’s decision to hand out £8 million as part of a regeneration effort to keep Spurs in Tottenham looks like the rich giving handouts to the rich.
The money is part of a £20 million package from the government to redevelop areas of London hit by the riots, specifically Tottenham and Croydon.
The money will only appear if Spurs really do stay at White Hart Lane.
In reality it is meant to fund improvements in the very poor area of Northumberland Park around the ground.
Unless there is an obvious link to decent jobs as a result—and at the minute there isn’t—it looks like another reason to turf out Johnson as mayor.
Keith Flett, North London
Solidarity is meaningful
I write from Turkey. I am a communist, and I’ve been in prison for the past ten years.
My “punishment” is for life. I am 28 years old.
I study English, but have only done so for a year. I did read some books, but I can’t find enough.
If you are able to send me books that would make me very happy. Solidarity is important and meaningful.
And any friends can write to me if they would like to.
I want to make friends in other countries—in fact, that is most important.
Caner Uluç, Tekirdag 1 No.lu F Tipi
Unite the unemployed
The Unite union announced in July the launch of a community membership scheme.
On offer is cut-price membership of 50p a week for students, unemployed people and single parents in a drive to organise in local communities as well as workplaces.
This is a small, but very significant development.
It will enable the unwaged to become active within the Unite union and the wider movement, including trades union councils.
John Smithee, Cambridgeshire
Sympathy for the devil
I can’t help but feel sorry for Stephen Hester, the chief executive of RBS.
Thousands of people have called on him to stop funding a US company that makes cluster bombs that kill thousands of children worldwide each year.
The poor man is faced with a great dilemma.
If he does remove funding from the company he could save the lives of thousands of children.
But that could affect his muliti-million pound bonus.
Derek Hanlin, Mid Glamorgan
The Proms and politics
I was one of those who took part in the protest against the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO) at the Proms last Thursday night.
The IPO are cultural ambassadors for Israel.
They have served the apartheid state since the Nakba of 1948 and through the occupations of 1967 by providing concerts for Israeli soldiers.
To anyone who claims that it is wrong to disrupt a concert because politics should not be mixed with music, I would say that any musician who plays for the troops is mixing music with politics.
Our protest forced the BBC to take a Prom off the air for the first time in history. We also succeeded in getting them to mention the word “Palestine” in their news reports!
Sue Blackwell, British Committee for the Universities of Palestine
Solidarity with the Travellers
The plan by Basildon Council to clear Travellers from Dale Farm in Essex is an appalling attack.
Does the council reckon it will recoup the £18 million it has put aside to clear the camp by selling the land to private developers?
I have sent a cheque to Dale Farm’s solidarity campaign.
Nigel Coward, Northfields
Support and donate to Dale Farm at http://dalefarm.wordpress.com
Jail MPs for stealing
The outrageous prison sentences for those who took part in the riots show how “independent” the judiciary really is from the politicians, the police and the media.
We can see the capitalist class, as ever, right there in front of us—armed, centralised and nasty.
The courts are there for capitalist law and order, not for justice.
Most MPs should be getting four years for what they stole.
Steve Brown, Eastoft