As Labour leader Ed Miliband laid out his plans for the housing crisis on last Sunday, his close ally Chuka Umunna MP was denouncing protesters against gentrification. Over 1,000 joined a Reclaim Brixton rally near Umunna’s south London Streatham constituency the previous day.
It hit the headlines after hated estate agent Foxton’s window was smashed. The local Labour Party duly condemned this “violence”.
But under the media radar, the local Labour-run Lambeth Council has been at war with working class people over housing.
Campaigners rallied outside the home of a disabled woman facing eviction on Thursday of last week. Residents of the Cressingham Gardens council estate and charity-run Guinness Trust are fighting plans for demolition.
Saturday’s demonstration linked these attacks on housing to public service cuts and Network Rail’s plan to evict shopkeepers under the local railway arches.
Protester Ollie Stewart told Socialist Worker, “My mum bought her fish from those shops for two generations.
“Now they’re going. I’ve seen estates go down and private developers put up flats local people can’t afford.
“I work with young homeless people who are being sent to Kent where they have no family. I’m not against regeneration—I’m against social cleansing.”
The demonstration reflected Brixton’s diversity. Black and white people marched together with Asian women in hijabs and Latin Americans chanting in Spanish.
Some developers use this “vibrancy” as a selling point for the gentrification that’s pushing it out.
Others whitewash it away under new names such as “South Oval”, instead of Brixton. Either way it strengthens the sense of a community under attack.
Carer Valerie Lindo said, “I grew up here, and if you said in a job interview that you were from Brixton they’d turn their noses up.
“These people who are coming here now used to see it as a ‘no go area’. Now they think they own the place.
“We are losing a grip on what we fought for. It’s riches for the rich and the poor don’t even get the crumbs.”
This resentment echoes across London. Campaigners from Westway in west London to the Focus E15 campaign in east London turned out in solidarity. And in Brixton it provides common cause for people fighting a number of attacks.
Ruth Cashman, a campaigner against library closures, said, “It all overlaps, because our community is being turned into a commodity. We’re saying it’s not for sale.”
Zena was one of a group of workers from Brixton’s Ritzy cinema who struck against low pay last year.
She said, “Keeping workers in low wages and pushing them out of their homes is all about creating opportunities for the wealthy and pushing the rest to the margins. And contrary to what our company likes to think, we love Brixton more than they do.”
The demonstration ended with music and celebration in the streets. And it became the launchpad for a range of actions. Shopkeepers formed a human chain against eviction and hundreds of activists stormed Lambeth Town Hall and marched on the police station.
This built on a year of housing protests, in the latest step towards a movement that can stop London being turned into a playground for the rich.
Such a movement faces challenges. In a city where people constantly move around, emphasising local communities risks excluding those who don’t feel part of one.
And workers have distinct interests from those of small shopkeepers, who aren’t always cheaper than the big chains they compete with.
But Reclaim Brixton sent a warning to politicians and developers that their gentrification will face resistance every step of the way.