THE government faced humiliation after anti-privatisation campaigners won two important victories. In the last few weeks tenants in Dudley and on Southwark's Aylesbury estate have decisively voted against plans to privatise their homes. These votes and recent government retreats show that New Labour's privatisation plans can be stopped.
It is against this background that a major conference is set to take place on the fight to defend council housing. Alan Walter of the Defend Council Housing organisation reports, 'In spring 2000 the government had one single-minded policy dubbed 'The end of council housing'. But they haven't pulled it off.
'They spend millions selling privatisation and telling us there is no alternative, but they are losing important ballots. Their attacks on council housing are deeply unpopular. Though we haven't managed to stop all the transfers, we have pushed council housing up the political agenda. Many people said we would never change government policy, but we are showing that four million tenants, trade unions, MPs, councillors and other campaigners around the country are a powerful force.'
The campaign has forced the government to include a new 'right to borrow' for local councils in its planned local government finance white paper, which is set to become law by 2004.
That is a major shift. It will allow councils to borrow money and invest in council housing, and so undermines one of the key financial arguments used to justify privatisation. The concession is not enough in itself. Much more direct public funding for council housing is needed.
The government should write off councils' housing debts if they keep their own housing and not, as at present, only if they transfer to a private housing company. The government should also be pressed to end the 'Daylight Robbery' scandal. This means council tenants pay twice over towards the cost of housing benefit, once through general taxation and then a second time through council rents. This year will see key battles in the fight to defend council housing, with Birmingham and Glasgow set to ballot all their tenants on proposed privatisations.
All this makes the conference on 9 February crucially important. Everyone who can - tenants, trade unionists and housing campaigners - should make sure they come and work to build it.
How we won
By Steve Sparks
CAMPAIGNERS ON the Aylesbury estate in Southwark, south London, are celebrating their victory in the fight to defend public housing. They are also celebrating giving Tony Blair a bloody nose, as he chose the estate to launch his particular version of 'regeneration'.
Blair's plan amounted to privatisation and scrapping council housing to push out working class people. This social engineering was what New Labour meant by fighting 'social exclusion', and in the process fat cats in private housing companies would make millions.
The local Labour council in Southwark proposed to transfer 2,700 homes to the Horizon housing group. The plan would have meant 1,300 homes sold off to the private sector, and the demolition and rebuilding of the estate. In just a few months a small number of campaigners fought against the expensive and glossy propaganda pushed out by the privateers. The campaign was built through lobbying the council, holding meetings and marches on the estate.
It pulled in local tenants, trade unions, and supporters of political parties such as the Socialist Alliance and Labour Party. In the ballot we won a 73 percent no vote, with 76 percent of tenants voting. We will continue the fight to demand that the £234 million quoted in the council's plan is spent on improving and extending public housing in Southwark.
Defend Council Housing national conference
Stop privatisation: invest in council housing
10am-4.30pm, Saturday 9 February, Christian Centre, The Parade, Birmingham city centre
Phone Defend Council Housing on 020 7987 9989 or e-mail [email protected]