Today’s housing struggle
Council tenants in Bow, east London, are angry at being blackmailed and rushed into a ballot for privatisation of their estates by Tower Hamlets council.
George Galloway, the Respect MP for Bethnal Green & Bow, and Alan Walter, the national secretary of Defend Council Housing, spoke to 120 local tenants and residents at a meeting in Bow on Monday of last week.
The meeting heard powerful contributions about rent strikes in the 1930s, as well as on how to organise today. One tenant spoke about how her estate had kicked out “housing choice” and successfully pressured Tower Hamlets council into doing repairs.
People are up in arms about years of betrayal and “bob-a-job” repairs. The meeting reflected an East End tradition of fighting back — a tradition which is being recreated by all those who live in Tower Hamlets today. There was a real mood of people wanting to work together at the grassroots.
Rebecca Townesend and Sheila McGregor, East London
Kelly Hilditch’s article on housing (Fighting to keep a roof over our heads, SW, 18 June) was very timely for us in Crawley. We are campaigning to retain council housing stock in the face of a Labour council that is prepared to work against the declared policy of the party to comply with Blair’s dictates.
Many of the older people in the town, including myself, have memories of the 1950s, when the New Towns Commission decided to increase rents by two shillings and sixpence per week.
The tenants association launched a campaign around the slogan “Not a Penny on the Rent” that was backed by the Joint Shop Stewards Committee on the industrial estate, the Labour Party and the Communist Party.
The campaign peaked with a one-day strike and mass meeting in the town centre. The memory of marching through the estate and seeing workers outside every factory lined up ready to join the march will never leave me. The following day the headline in the Daily Worker read “A Whole Town Stops Work Over Rents”.
The key to the success was unity and the absence of sectarianism. We did not stop the rent increase — but the New Towns Commission was forced to agree to a moratorium on further increases for, I think, the next three years.
Roy Hathaway, Crawley, Surrey
Salford council was up to its old tricks again last week. Not content with running down and selling off council stock, this time it was the turn of the McGinley family to face their wrath.
The McGinleys — John, Helen and their ten children and grandchild — are members of a travelling family who journeyed to Salford in the hope that they could settle while Helen received medical care.
But the permanent sites available to Travellers in the city turned them down, claiming to be full. So the family moved onto a nearby piece of waste ground opposite some flats on Salford Precinct. It wasn’t long before council officials visited them threatening legal action and fines of up to £1,000 if they did not move on.
The McGinleys want to stay in Salford. They want their children to be accepted into the local schools. They want a site where they can hook up to running water and have decent sanitation.
Salford council should start treating people in need with more respect and stop running down much needed housing and accommodation in the city, so that people like the McGinleys can be helped when they need it.
Karen Evans, Manchester
The WTO’s next stop
The people of Hong Kong would like to send a warm message of solidarity to all those protesting against the militaristic and unequal policies of the G8 this week.
This December, Hong Kong will host the sixth ministerial of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) — the corporate hand, guided by the big industrialised nations of the G8, that causes pain and suffering to millions around the world.
The Hong Kong People’s Alliance on the WTO is a network of grassroot organisations based in Hong Kong that has come together to help organise protests and demonstrations at the ministerial.
We include trade unions, community labour groups and organisations representing migrant workers, students, women and the churches.
Like you, we are facing opposition to our right to protest from our government. We would ask all people who feel our cause is right to sign the letter on our website. We also invite all those fighting for another world to come to Hong Kong this December.
Fergus Alexander, Hong Kong People’s Alliance
It is shameful, but not surprising, that most of the ID card rebels in parliament backed down — however else will they ever become ministers?
The fact is that anyone holding a Labour Party card does what the Labour Party does, regardless of what they may say about things.
Socialist Worker is right to argue that we must build a mass campaign against ID cards that “draws together all those opposed to New Labour’s attack on civil rights”.
The public shows signs of waking up to the menace of ID cards — and their projected cost of up to £300 each. But we must act very quickly and not rely on these cowardly politicians.
Victoria Townley, North London
Rachid Ramda faces new extradition threat
I write to ask your readers’ support for my Algerian friend, Rachid Ramda. After spending ten years in Belmarsh prison without charge or trial, the home office has agreed to an extradition request from France.
Rachid spent the first six and a half years of his incarceration at Belmarsh in solitary confinement in a high security unit.
In 2002 Rachid’s extradition was quashed by the High Court but the French government was given the time to come up with a new warrant. It took it another three years to come up with the same words on new paper.
Until I visited Rachid a year ago, he had had no visitors. His friends had been refused permission to visit him — because they were his friends. His mother has been refused a visa on 12 occasions to come to visit her son.
Last year, your newspaper appealed for people to write to Rachid and other men detained under the Anti-Terrorism Act 2001. They were overwhelmed by the response and it lifted their spirits so much.
Some of these men had, until then, never received a letter in all the time they had been held. They and their families are now condemned to a half life under control orders.
But they say they will not feel free until their brother Rachid is also free. Time is running out for Rachid and I appeal to you to find out more about him by going to www.cageprisoners.com
Ann Alexander, Angus, Scotland
A step forward for Egypt’s movement
I recently visited Egypt to witness the country’s democracy movement take another huge step forward. On 5 June activists marched unchallenged in Cairo.
For over an hour 1,000 people occupied the main street of Shubra, north of the city centre, chanting slogans against Hosni Mubarak, the country’s US-backed dictator.
In contrast to previous protests, when riot police surrounded and attacked demonstrators, security forces were nowhere to be seen.
Several hundred bystanders joined the marchers, astonished to see a demonstration in their streets, but ready to take a rare opportunity to assert their rights. One local man seized a placard, telling marchers, “Let me hold this — give me some dignity.”
The democracy movement is now holding weekly protests in working class neighbourhoods of Cairo. Activists are anxious to involve workers and the urban poor.
As one organiser put it, “We are growing fast, but many people do not yet have the confidence to join us. It is our job to give them that confidence.”
Phil Marshall, East London
From Portugal with pleasure
We read Matthew Cookson’s articles about the Portuguese revolution with great pleasure (‘Everything was possible’, SW, 25 June). There is, however, a small misunderstanding that I would like to correct.
The Committee for Freedom in Mozambique, Angola, Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde — CFMAG — was not formed by Portuguese exiles, but by British comrades.
I was its only Portuguese member — there were obviously Portuguese supporters and sympathisers — and I joined it when it had already been in activity for some time.
Bruno Ponte, Lisbon, Portugal
Fado star’s secret support
I’d just like to add a small but interesting footnote to Jane Trainer’s article about the fado music of Portugal (Fado, SW, 25 June).
As she rightly says Amalia Rodriguez, highly regarded as one of fado’s greatest voices, was perceived as lending political support to the Salazar regime.
However after her death in 1999, it was revealed that she had been giving money in secret to Portugal’s Communist Party and other groups opposed to the fascist regime.
Iain Colquhoun, Pontevedra, Spain
Criminals in command
After reading Dahr Jamail’s article Iraqi Hospitals in the Firing Line (SW, 2 July), I am disgusted but not surprised.
But the real criminals are those further up the command chain — eventually ending up with George Bush.
Adrian Cannon, Edinburgh
A refreshingly open debate
I Just wanted to express appreciation to Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui and Inayat Bunglawala for the debate on the proposed religious hatred law (Will religious hatred laws deal with bigotry?, SW, 2 July).
The media has been full of “expert” views of showbiz celebrities and Daily Telegraph columnists. It’s so refreshing to finally have the opportunity to hear serious and considered views of leaders from the Muslim community itself.
Ben Drake, York
Will religious hatred laws deal with bigotry? What about the sort of bigotry that says that half the population — the female half — is inferior to men and subject to their orders?
Or the bigotry of all monotheistic religions that say everyone else is damned to eternal hell? Both Islam and Christianity do the latter.
G Tingey, East London
Was Lenin the same as Mao?
As a Marxist, I see the Bolshevik Revolution in the same light as Chris Harman sees Mao Zedong and the Chinese Revolution (The myth of Mao, Socialist Worker, 18 June).
October 1917 might have shaken the world, but it didn’t change it. Lenin’s one party state and “red terror” was more to do with a middle class intelligentsia ruthlessly determined to industrialise Russia.
The real heroes of the revolution were the people — they should be listened to, not Lenin or Trotsky. Why be weighed down today by defending such a brutal history?
Clinton Fraser, Surbiton, Surrey
Chavez’s great advantage
The historian Thomas Macaulay once noted “the greatest advantage which a government can possess is to be the one trustworthy government in the midst of governments which nobody can trust”.
Perhaps this explains why Venezuelan premier Hugo Chavez has been able to survive repeated attempts by the US to organise a military coup against him (US wants dominance not democracy, SW, 25 June).
The rulers of the world assembling at the G8 summit would give anything for a fraction of Chavez’s support — built on his lack of deference for US imperial power.
Christian Hogsbjerg, Leeds