Victory against ITNet
By Viv Smith
HACKNEY RESIDENTS in east London celebrated a massive victory against privatisation last week.
ITNet, the private company responsible for housing benefits, has been sacked and the service taken back into the hands of the council.
The victory is of national significance as councils across the country have either privatised housing benefits or are looking to.
ITNet, for example, runs housing benefits in the neighbouring Islington council. Other companies like CSL run housing benefit in councils such as Sheffield and London�s Newham.
This is the second victory over privatisation in Hackney within the space of one month.
It follows the withdrawal of plans to privatise the street cleansing service, after workers threatened strike action.
ITNet was given �70 million pounds and a ten year contract in 1997 to run housing benefits in Hackney, one of the poorest boroughs in London.
Three years of misery have followed as tenants� payments were stopped or delayed for no apparent reason.
Tenants were threatened with eviction and hauled into court as a result of ITNet�s inefficiency.
An 81 year old pensioner�s benefits were stopped. He was so terrified of losing his home that he continued to pay rent, despite being left with only �14 a week to live on.
Residents have campaigned for ITNet to be sacked for the past three years, but the council claimed that it would be illegal to cancel the contract.
There have been repeated demonstrations against the council, and a series of protest meetings. Many residents have boycotted their rent payments.
The council�s decision to sack ITNet comes a week before a by-election in the borough�s Wick ward where the London Socialist Alliance is mounting a vigorous campaign.
Those fighting privatisation everywhere should take heart from the Hackney victory.
The lesson is that the privateers can be beaten and driven out of public services.
Defend council housing
Workers and tenants unite
OVER 350 tenants and council workers united on Tuesday of last week in an impressive protest against Birmingham council's plan to privatise its 90,000 council homes. The protesters heard speeches both from tenants and council workers in the UNISON union emphasising the need for unity if the fight is to be won.
The city's Labour council has been attempting to foster divisions between tenants and workers, and seeking to scapegoat council manual workers for the poor quality of housing repairs.
The protest saw a good number of those manual workers-members of the UCATT, TGWU and AEEU unions-turn out to vent their anger at the council. The council has recently voted to press ahead with the privatisation, which will need to be backed by a ballot of all the city's tenants.
But the council is also very worried at the scale of the growing opposition. There are serious splits within the local Labour Party over the issue. Some 16 city councillors and two local Labour MPs have spoken out openly against the plans. Council leaders used threats of deselection to press the dissident Labour councillors to back the privatisation in the full council meeting.
Despite that the plan only went through the council by eight votes, giving the councillors who oppose the privatisation the power to scupper it if they broke ranks. Some other councils in the area are also pressing ahead with council house privatisation plans, such as Solihull. But others are opposing privatisation. In Wolverhampton the Labour council's housing director, Russ Borrowman, says, "I am against stock transfer because I do not think it is in the tenants' interest."
The potential for a major campaign to sink Bimingham's privatisation plan- the biggest in England-has also been underlined by an initiative by the West Midlands region of the UNISON council workers' union. It has put some �40,000 into a series of eyecatching adverts on around 300 Birmingham buses opposing the privatisation plan.
HANDS OFF OUR HOMES
Manchester 2000 national conference
Saturday 21 October, 11am-4.30pm, Friends Meeting House, 6 Mount Street, Manchester Details and registration from Defend Council Housing, c/o Haggerston TA, 179 Haggerston Road, London E8 4JA. Phone 020 7275 9994 E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org