Defend council housing

The struggle against the privatisation of council housing won several major victories in the run up to Christmas. Several attempts by local councils to blackmail tenants to vote to transfer their homes have been defeated. Despite facing expensive propaganda campaigns that promise much needed improvements and threaten the withholding of investment if tenants say no, local communities and grassroots campaigns have stood firm. Through local campaigning the motives and corruption of local councils and the Labour government have been exposed. Tenants understand that replacing their landlord will result in higher rents, less secure tenancies, a less accountable landlord and an uncertain future.

In Edinburgh 53% of council tenants voted against attempts to sell off their homes to a housing association. This was one of the biggest sell-off attempts with 23,000 homes affected. The tenants now face the battle to get the direct investment they need from central government to make their homes decent.

In Tower Hamlets in the East End of London, five out of seven estates which were balloted voted to stay with the council. The vote on the future of the Ocean Estate has had to be postponed until summer 2006. It was clear to local people that this was because the mood on the estate was against a sell-off. Tower Hamlets council has named its privatisation programme ‘Housing Choice’ – a strange name for a policy which in practice bullies and blackmails council tenants. Roughly one third of the council’s housing stock has now been transferred to housing associations.

The campaign to defend council housing is a battle to defend the interests of the working class. In this struggle central government is on the offensive. A report published last year by the local government regeneration agency revealed the tactics being used: as part of plans to transfer properties on the rundown Ocean Estate to a housing association, ‘housing partners and community leaders will also work to undermine the aims and integrity of those campaigning against the transfer’ (The Guardian 3 January 2006). After tenants in Sefton, Merseyside rejected a sell-off in September 2005, the local council disgracefully re-balloted to get a vote in favour of transfer. In Tower Hamlets Eileen Short, a prominent member of the Defend Council Housing Campaign, has been sacked from her job in the council after 14 years because of her role in defeating its privatisation programme. Faced with the threat of communities standing up for their rights, the government is fighting dirty.

Tower Hamlets suffers some of the worst housing conditions in Britain, with the worst overcrowding in the UK and 20,000 people on the housing waiting list. The housing stock has been deliberately run down to force through stock transfer but the tenants still chose the council. Working class people understand that the fragmentation and destruction of council housing is an attack on their rights.
Barnaby Mitchell.

FRFI 189 February / March 2006


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