Defend Council Housing
All under one roof
By Paul Mcgarr
OVER 200 people attended an excellent conference in Manchester last Saturday to launch a national fight to stop the government's drive to end council housing. The conference, initiated by the Defend Council Housing campaign, saw tenants organisations, trade unions and MPs come together on an impressive united platform.
The government wants to see all 3.2 million council homes handed to private companies over the next decade. But it has to persuade tenants to back the plans in local ballots in order to go ahead. The attack is producing widespread opposition which has already seen the privatisation plans beaten in some areas. Over the coming months major councils will ballot tenants, including Britain's two biggest council landlords, Glasgow and Birmingham.
The opening session of Saturday's conference heard from George Brumwell, general secretary of the UCATT construction workers' union, whose members repair council housing. UCATT has thrown its full weight behind the campaign and sent four national executive members to the conference. On Saturday George Brumwell announced a major lobby of parliament on 24 January. We have to go on the offensive", he said, "to defend good public sector housing. If you want to attack poverty, poor health, education and crime it begins with a good roof over your head. Globalisation is a buzz word used by the media. It means privatisation around the globe-the idea that public is bad, private is good. That is a myth and we have to attack it. We will help with finance and with bodies, but tenants must lead this fight. I also say to other unions that it's time to get off the fence."
Alf Chandler, chair of the official Tenants and Residents Organisation of England, which is backing the Defend Council Housing campaign, spoke to Saturday's conference.
Alf stressed that affordable housing is the key to a decent society: "What's the point of having good schools if children get sent home to poor homes? What's the point of building new hospitals if people get sent home to damp, run-down housing?"
Jean Geldart, chair of the local government executive of the UNISON public sector workers' union, whose members work in councils' housing departments, also addressed the conference.
"UNISON is committed to the fight to keep democratic control of council housing, and to improve the quality of council housing," said Jean. "We're working to help create a broad, massive national campaign to force the government to make the direct investment that council housing needs."
Jeremy Corbyn MP also addressed Saturday's conference, and has been a key figure in pulling together dozens of MPs who now back the campaign. The conference also heard from local campaigns across the country. From Scotland came the excellent news of a 100-strong meeting to launch a united campaign in Glasgow. A rally is now planned on 2 December, backed by tenants and all the council trade unions in the city.
Alan Walter of the national committee of Defend Council Housing summed up the mood of the day when he said, "We are saying we don't want to go back to the horrors of the market and private landlords which an older generation fought against to establish council housing. The real strength of the campaign will be what we organise on the ground, on the estates and streets. We can then build on that for national initiatives like the lobby in January and unite everyone around the fight to stop the destruction of council housing."
- For more information on the campaign contact Defend Council Housing, c/o HAWK TRA, Haggerston Community Centre, 179 Haggerston Road, London E8 4JA. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone 020 7275 9994.
- SOME 60 tenants and trade unionists attended a Defend Council Housing meeting in Grimethorpe last week organised by the Defend Barnsley Council Housing campaign. Labour MP Austin Mitchell spoke and encouraged tenants to vote no in the November ballot on the proposed transfer of 600 homes to Springvale Housing Limited.