GOVERNMENT MINISTERS were 'stunned' and their housing policy was 'hurled off course' this week when Birmingham tenants voted by 67 percent to 33 percent against housing privatisation. This was a key test case for New Labour's policy of destroying council housing. The vote shows how the gut feeling that people have against privatisation can be mobilised and focused by a strong campaign.
FRANK CHANCE, Birmingham Defend Council Housing chair, TRACY TWIST, Birmingham Unison chair (personal capacity), and MARK WEEKS, Defend Council Housing national committee, write for Socialist Worker.
BIRMINGHAM council tenants have given a crushing blow to New Labour's housing privatisation programme. The brilliant two to one vote in the tenants' ballot should mark the end of the government's disastrous stock transfer policy. Tenants voted by 40,869 to 20,350 against Birmingham Labour council's proposals to sell off their homes. Wardens and leaseholders also voted no. At Birmingham Town Hall on Monday tenants and trade unionists were jubilant as the result was announced.
Campaigners marched into the town hall with banners and forced director of housing David Thompson to come out and speak to them. The council leaders were nowhere to be seen. The result will raise the confidence of campaigners against privatisation all over Britain.
The privatisers and fixers should hang their heads in shame. This was the council leaders' flagship policy. They should resign so we can get on with winning investment in council housing with no strings. The council bombarded tenants with videos and propaganda. In the end they spent £36 million of public money – £1,769 for every yes vote.
We did not get a single penny to put our side of the argument. And still we beat them! The victory is a credit to the Birmingham campaign. Tenants, trade unionists and politicians were united and determined through a gruelling two-year battle. By the end local MPs, half the councillors and every major trade union backed the no campaign.
Outside the town hall we stood together – black, white and Asian. Unity won the day. Now this must be built on to strengthen tenants' organisations. Birmingham tenants have voted to keep secure tenancies, lower rents and the democratic accountability of their landlord. Birmingham council workers who actively supported Birmingham Defend Council Housing are jubilant, but also furious.
The whole thing was such a waste of public money and totally unfair. Now we want to see money put into council housing. Instead, outrageously, council leader Albert Bore is already talking about trying to push through housing privatisation in 'bite-sized chunks'.
Privatisation can be driven off the agenda locally and nationally when tenants and trade unionists unite and campaign together. Birmingham Defend Council Housing will be at the House of Commons next week to back the national campaign for investment in council housing. We want:
- li>Birmingham and every other council to be free to borrow against rents and assets.
- The daylight robbery of rents to stop.
- Government to write off debt and hand over subsidies to all councils, not just those that sell off homes.
Now Glasgow faces 'Railtrack homes'
IN GLASGOW a narrow majority voted to accept transfer to a housing association. The result-29,000 for and 21,000 against-was remarkably close considering the scale of the blackmail and the state of the housing. One quarter of Glasgow's council homes are unfit to live in because of damp and lack of maintenance. Half the stock needs substantial repairs.
The Labour council said that unless the homes moved out of their control there would be no real refurbishment. If tenants voted for privatisation they were promised that the government would do £1.8 billion of repairs, and that the £900 million housing debt would be written off.
Campaigners against the transfer argued that if the money could be found for privatised homes then it should also be available for council stock repair. Scottish Socialist Party MSP Tommy Sheridan said after the result, 'What we are worried about is a Railtrack housing scheme if the transfer goes ahead.'
Put the case for council housing
Tuesday 16 April, 12 noon-2.30pm and 3pm-5pm, House of Commons, London
Speakers include Jeremy Corbyn MP, Lynne Jones MP, George Brumwell (Ucatt), Mick Graham (GMB). Called by Defend Council Housing-phone 020 7987 9989 or 07951 156 881, or go to www.defendcouncilhousing.org.uk