Scotland: Fighting the bedroom tax, challenging the Labour Party

Memories of the Poll Tax still run deep in Scotland, where Thatcher first implemented the hated tax, and working class resistance to it first arose. With the bedroom tax now set to affect 105,000 social housing tenants, around 80% of whom are disabled, anger and organisation is building once again. Yet so too are the opportunist forces on the left and in the Labour Party who sought to control the anti-poll tax movement, and seek to hold back resistance again.

On 30 March, 5,000 people marched in Glasgow against the bedroom tax, by far the largest demonstration against the measure to take place in Britain. FRFI supporters led a militant contingent of 50 people alongside Glasgow Against ATOS, which has been by far the most militant and active campaign on the streets of Glasgow, and has stood solidly against the bedroom tax and all cuts. Daniel McGarrell, an FRFI supporter arrested on an ATOS picket in March, addressed the protest on behalf of the campaign, but he was only able to do so after a political battle with opportunist elements who claimed that there were ‘too many’ speakers representing disabled people – although they were happy to allow half a dozen speakers from the ‘official’ labour movement which has done nothing to oppose the cuts.

The opportunist left has already torn itself apart over its attempts to control a movement which has barely begun. From Tommy Sheridan’s reappearance in the SWP and Socialist Party’s Scottish Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation, to ‘No2Bedroom Tax’ and the Coalition of Resistance’s/Unite the Union’s ‘community campaign’, the opportunist left are united only in attempting to impose top-down, bureaucratic control over any genuine working class organisation and instead build alliances with the Labour Party.

In Hamilton, FRFI supporters have played a key role in establishing Hamilton Against the Bedroom Tax (HATBT), which through open campaign meetings, street work on local estates and protests in the town centre, has built a genuine working class campaign with local residents at its heart. In doing so, the campaign has exposed the real face of Labour’s so-called opposition to the tax. At a HATBT meeting on 28 March, two local Labour councillors, when challenged by residents as to whether South Lanarkshire council would publicly state it would not evict tenants who fell into arrears, refused to do so. In a written reply attacking the minute of this point, one councillor stated that ‘genuine campaigners are not subscribing to the false narrative of councils who will/will not evict.’ How convenient that would be for them!

On 20 May, the Daily Record exposed the fact that South Lanarkshire Labour council had threatened one local tenant, Angela Buskie, with eviction and legal action over bedroom tax arrears of just £129.96. The response of council leader Eddie McAvoy was to claim a ‘mistake’ had been made and introduce a freeze on eviction notices for twelve months. The Morning Star reported the same day that it had seen a letter from North Lanarkshire Labour council ‘raising proceedings for possession of the dwelling house’ of a disabled man in Coatbridge over arrears of just £50.10. This from a council whose chief has been one of the most vocal ‘critics’ of the tax.

Those who claim to be against the cuts, while actively implementing them, have no role to play in building opposition to austerity. FRFI will continue to challenge these reactionary forces, and those who defend them.

Joey Simons

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 233 June/July 2013


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