Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Am I Too White, Able-Bodied, Straight And Male To Be An Intersectionalist?

The answer, of course, is a huge 'no'!

I'm just one white, able-bodied, straight male (I might add cis-gendered to the list provided by Zoe Williams' terrible article in The Guardian). My opinion shouldn't matter that much. Except that according to those supposedly most worried about dividing what they call 'the left', I shouldn't exist. Because I love intersectionality, 'despite' having all that privilege. Privilege checking has become a reflex over the last few years. The reason is in two 'intersecting' parts: 1) I don't want to oppress anyone if I can possibly help it, and 2) I need a revolution to secure my own material well-being, for which I need comrades, and intersectionality can help with that.

Over the past week or so, the online world has exploded into argument over intersectionality. This was sparked when New Statesman deputy editor Helen Lewis was revealed to have storified tweets made by a proponent of intersectionality, who had made mistaken allegations against historian Mary Beard back in January. The individual had then removed the tweets and apologised. Beard accepted this apology, but Lewis dug up old ground in an effort to attack this person's reputation. As if on cue, a horde of anonymous followers than started posting vile racist, sexist and ableist abuse.

In the context of all human life, this might seem like a small thing. But it was emblematic of wider social issues. Firstly, the nature of the abuse showed the desperate need for intersectionality, and secondly, Lewis had used her position of - yes - privilege to ad hominem attack someone with a much smaller platform. By flattening the individual, she had hoped to dismiss a cause she had railed against in the past.

It is easy to see why intersectionality would be seen as a threat by those paid by the establishment to be court 'lefts'. These media liberals often make money writing about one form of oppression - patriarchy in the case of Lewis, and socio-economic class in the case of Owen Jones, who leapt to Lewis' defence on Twitter. Williams used The Guardian website to chime in with a total misrepresentation of both 'Beardgate' and intersectionality itself.

However it is important and all to the good that media talking heads do feel challenged. Intersectionality is not a silencing tactic - those who complain as such normally have a disproportionately large say anyway, and are merely being told to let others get a word in edgeways. But it is a demand that everyone - no matter how traditionally excluded from political discourse - is given a chance to shape debate and shape the world.

It is no mere coincidence that this most democratic of philosophies has gained traction on Twitter over the last few years. Twitter - notable access issues aside - resembles a mass global parliament in which everyone with internet access can have - at least in theory - an equal say. It is this which most worries the likes of Jones, who yesterday alleged that his opponents "hunt in packs". On some level, he likely feels that his position as 'spokesman of the left' is threatened by such mass participation.

I came to Twitter in the midst of the student uprising against the tripling of tuition fees and the scrapping of EMA. I was mainly interested in this, and class-based responses to the economic crisis. But gradually I learned more about intersectionality, and that 'check your privilege' - far from being something like the insult it is often portrayed as being - means something like 'try seeing it from the persepective of someone who faces struggles that you do not'. Without Twitter - and particularly without the target of Helen Lewis' spite - I don't know how this would have happened.

I'll never be perfect, but I'm now less of a nobhead to people who don't have my privilege than I was. I never meant to be oppressive, I never saw what I was doing, but that's the whole thing about privilege. Multiply my modest results by billions, and if that was all the use that privilege theory and intersectionality could be, it would be enough.

But much, much more than that, it offers away of encouraging people to link up their struggles, of becoming stronger through solidarity, and building a movement that can challenge the whole oppressive system. White men - and it nearly always is white men - who claim that we can deal with racism, sexism and other forms of oppression 'after the revolution' entirely miss the point. Dealing with them is an integral part of the revolution.

As the Anarchist Federation women's caucus described in last year's inspirational pamplet 'The Class Struggle Analysis of Privilege':
"A black, disabled working class lesbian may not necessarily have had a harder life than a white, able-bodied working class straight cis-man, but she will have a much greater understanding of the intersections between class, race, disability, gender and sexuality. The point isn’t that, as the most oppressed in the room, she should lead the discussion, it’s that her experience gives her insights he won’t have on the relevant points of struggle, the demands that will be most effective, the bosses who represent the biggest problem, the best places and times to hold meetings or how to phrase a callout for a mass meeting so that it will appeal to a wider range of people, ways of dealing with issues that will very probably not occur to anybody whose oppression is along fewer intersections. He should be listening to her, not because she is more oppressed than him (though she may well be), but because it is vital to the struggle that she is heard, and because the prejudices that society has conditioned into us, and that still affect the most socially aware of us, continue to make it more difficult for her to be heard, for us to hear her."
In short, the revolution will be intersectional, or it won't happen.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Liverpool Reds Rejoice At Mass Thatcher Death Party

A small section of the jubilant crowd. Photo: I am un chien andalusia
On Wednesday, a huge crowd gathered at St George's Hall in the centre of Liverpool, to celebrate the death of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Though the corporate media claimed that only a couple of hundred had shown up - or one hundred in the preposterous case of Sky News - all the steps and down the Plateau were quickly filled with partygoers, with a steady flow of people coming and going all the time. I am un chien andalusia has some great photos and YouTube links of the festivities, but I want to consider the meaning of the event - for participants, opponents, and the media.

The event had long been 'scheduled' at that venue on the day of Thatcher's funeral. For years, people locally have whispered that we should all meet up on the joyous occasion. When she finally pegged it, Liverpool fans on Twitter started publicising it, and asking people to turn up dressed in red. After this, a group of radical activists started spreading it on a Facebook event page which eventually got over eight hundred confirmations.

From everything I've seen, it was one of the biggest such parties in the country - rivalling even the much trumpeted Trafalgar Square event last weekend in terms of sheer numbers. The reasons for this should be obvious - Thatcher waged pitiless war on the working class population of the city during the 1980s - from the repression of the Toxteth uprising in 1981, through to the smashing of municipal-based resistance and 'needs budgets' a few years later, then the Poll Tax and ever-increasing urban despair. Only last year, the truth about the establishment's lies over the Hillsborough disaster at least partly emerged, and this was a significant factor for some of the Liverpool fans too young to remember anything about her other policies.

So in many ways this was an eruption of the tribal locality-based Liverpool solidarity so hated feared by the likes of Boris Johnson. Chants of "Merseyside, Merseyside, Merseyside" broke out frequently, emphasising the unity felt by football reds, blues, and dare I say even whites over Thatcher's attacks. Having said that, it is doubtful that many from Mossley Hill or Heswall were present - this was very much a working class party, and people could often be heard declaring themselves "working class and proud", or a variation on this.

For the local mass media, and particularly the Liverpool Echo, this was all a bit embarassing. Though they wrap themselves in parochialism too, it is a parochialism focused on business interests. Such layers are forever concerned with "Liverpool's image", and avoiding a return to "the bad old days" of mass working class resistance to capital. Liverpool is to be presented as a "modern city", which of course means a neoliberal one indistinguishable from any other in the globalised world, apart from in terms of accents, The Beatles saturation, and the marketing of a 'chirpy' - i.e. socially and politically compliant but humorous - scouse stereotype which bears little relation to reality.

Following a sheepish and lying (on the numbers) Echo article, the letters page was flooded with people complaining that such 'mindless yobs', who 'were not even born' in Thatcher's time, risked 'turning the clock back'. The average Echo correspondent - entirely unrepresentative of the city's population - clearly despises any display of defiance.

And that - primarily - is what occurred on Wednesday evening. Against the background of mass media hagiographies of Sainted Margaret, some of us got together to say a big 'fuck you' to all that. It wasn't the revolution - or the beginning of anything which could develop politically, but it was an awesome party.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Housing Associations Respond to Wirral Bedroom Tax Activists

Wirral Combat The Bedroom Tax have so far received three email responses to their appeal for local housing associations to make their position on the bedroom tax clear. Each housing association was invited to send a representative to one of the group's meetings, but each declined. The emails from Riverside, Wirral Partnership Homes and Symphony Housing are reproduced below.

I am writing in response to your recent open letter, entitled Axe the Bedroom Tax which was emailed to a number of Housing Associations operating in the Wirral. I am sorry that I was unable to attend your recent open meeting in Wallasey, however we didn’t find out about in time to make arrangements to attend. If you would like to discuss the bedroom tax in more detail, I would be more than happy to meet a representative of your group. Please let me know.

Like you, Riverside is deeply concerned about the impact of the bedroom tax on tenants’ incomes, and the wider effect on communities. We will continue to campaign against this highly damaging and unfair measure, and wish you well in your work.

We have received a number of similar requests for information and thought it would be helpful to set out our position clearly.

Campaigning: Riverside (along with many of our tenants) campaigned intensively against the introduction of the bedroom tax in its current form. This included:  issuing a series Parliamentary briefings; meeting Ministers, members of the opposition, constituency MPs and Members of the House of Lords; commissioning research into the impact on tenants (quoted in Parliament); and working with the media to raise general awareness.

We have taken a pragmatic stance, supporting Lord Best’s amendment to the Welfare Reform Bill, which would have adopted a more generous definition of under-occupation, allowing an extra bedroom. This would have reduced the number of tenants affected by 75% - a much more manageable challenge – whilst recognising the need to tackle higher levels of under-occupation in a measured way.

We still believe that this is the best way forward and will continue to campaign for a change in the definition of under-occupation.

Supporting Tenants: We have been running a major communications initiative over the past year called The B!G Changes. This has focused on contacting tenants who are affected by the bedroom tax by mail, phone and through face to face meetings, and we have now engaged with over 6,000 tenants, around 90% of those affected. We have offered clear advice about options, as well as more specialist money and affordable warmth advice.

Our local teams are able to offer a range of support options to tenants. They have access to increased resources to assist tenants with removal costs for downsizing moves (depending on circumstances), and we are active members of two national schemes helping tenants to ‘swap’ their homes. Whilst we know that there is a general shortage of smaller properties (especially 1 beds), this varies by area. Overall we estimate that around 1500 tenants currently affected by the bedroom tax are likely to want to downsize to 1 bedroom properties. Around 1,000 become available for re-letting each year.

We have also boosted our money advice team, taking on 12 additional members of staff. Already this team has helped tenants claim over £2 million each year in extra benefits, and reduce their arrears by over £200,000. A specialist in-house affordable warmth service is available on Merseyside, providing vital money-saving advice on reducing fuel bills and practical assistance for tenants wanting to move from pre-paid meter arrangements etc. We also have an active programme to help tenants into employment and volunteering opportunities and in the past year we have helped 521 people into work.

Collecting the rent: Collecting the rent is essential if Riverside is to continue to provide high quality services and build much needed homes. Our approach needs to be fair to all our tenants - whether they receive housing benefit of meet their housing costs themselves – and it has been agreed with tenant representatives.

We have looked at our approach to income management in the light of welfare reform and discussed it with tenant representatives and our Board. It places a real emphasis on responsibility for paying the rent, whilst aiming to sustain tenancies and support vulnerable tenants. We think it is balanced, and we are not proposing to make major changes, using a consistent approach whatever reason rent arrears have arisen.

The main change we are introducing as a response to welfare reform is boosting support for tenants, whilst making sure our teams intervene as early as possible where tenants are falling behind with their rent. This includes supporting tenants claim benefits, and assisting those who are appealing decisions around benefit awards and discretionary housing payments. We have provided more training and support to staff, so that they can help tenants facing the challenges of welfare reform where we can.

Re-designating properties

We do not believe that re-designating properties is a viable way of helping tenants escape the bedroom tax. Re-designation would lead to a reduction in rent, threatening services to existing tenants.

Under regulations, it is for local authorities to determine the number of bedrooms in a property, and in doing this they have requested information from Riverside and other landlords. We have answered factually, stating the number of bedrooms recorded on the tenancy agreement.

In addition, most housing associations have borrowed money to build new homes, using existing homes as security. To re-designate properties could potentially lead to a breach of lending conditions, with very serious financial consequences.

We hope this information is of assistance. If you are aware of any tenants who are worried about the impact of the bedroom tax on them, please encourage them to contact our customer service centre on 0845 1110000.

Yours Sincerely

Neil Townsend – Director – The Riverside Group

Dear all

I am replying to your open letter which you handed to us during our discussions following your protest at WPH’s offices on Monday 8 April. 

As discussed on Monday I can confirm that the implementation of the Housing Benefit changes for households who are under-occupying their current tenancies will have a major impact upon this organisation.  Those who under-occupy by one bedroom will have their Housing Benefit reduced by 14 per cent and those who under-occupy by two bedrooms will have a reduction of 25 per cent.

Speaking to all Tenants Potentially affected by the Housing Benefit Changes

WPH currently has 12,170 tenancies across Wirral and around 2,200 of our households will be affected by the under-occupation charge.

We have been contacting all of the tenants who are affected to raise awareness to the changes and to discuss the various options with them.  From our discussions with these households, we have found the following:

26% are interested in moving to smaller accommodation (234 tenants)
41% are not willing to move (372 tenants)
43% will look to pay the charge (386 tenants)
25% of tenants have been referred to Wirral Council to consider Discretionary Housing Payment (223 tenants)

WPH has been working to re-house those who wish to move and to date our project team has re-housed over 120 tenants. However, 117 households (13%) have advised us that they are not willing to pay the charge.

Please be aware that these are figures for WPH only.  From the Council’s figures, we understand that a total of around 4,500 households in all social rented housing across Wirral will be affected by the under-occupation charge.

WPH is working on a number of fronts to advise our tenants.  We have included articles in our tenants’ newsletters and provided useful information including a benefits calculator on our website. 

We are concerned that some people may still not be aware of the changes and we are distributing an information DVD, highlighting that those affected should contact WPH.  The awareness-raising film is also on our website. We will soon be undertaking a Welfare Reform road show across all of our estates in Wirral, again to encourage those who have not yet contacted us to come along so that we can discuss their situation. 

Access to the Internet to make Claims

It was raised about some of our tenants’ ability to have access to the internet to make benefit claims.  We have started a digital champions scheme with our local tenants’ groups to help train people up in the use of PCs and the internet, helping our residents build IT skills. The first scheme is at Courtney Park, Woodward Estate, Rock Ferry. Our new offices in Hamilton Street will also have ICT equipment for use by tenants and we signpost tenants to libraries and One-Stop Shops which have ICT access. We have also provided computer skills training, via our colleagues at Wirral Metropolitan College to over 205 of our tenants and this is an ongoing programme.

The trades’ union movement is also involved in providing much-valued equipment and skills training for our tenants as we develop our Digital Inclusion Strategy.

Financial Advice

As part of our approach, we wish to assist our tenants to better manage their money by improving their money management skills.  We have supplemented our Welfare Benefit Advisors with two new posts of Money Management Advisors to provide direct support to customers who are struggling to meet their financial commitments.  Our welfare benefit officers have managed to get our tenants around £200,000 in unclaimed benefits in one month. In 2012 they claimed £1,258,742 in additional benefits for tenants. Thirty tenants have been trained as “champions” in welfare benefits awareness and over 100 have attended “money management” courses.  We would encourage tenants to contact us.

Re-housing

In terms of re-housing households who have requested a move to smaller accommodation, as I stated on Monday, there is a shortage of smaller property vacancies with all 12 of the housing providers who participate in the Property Pool Plus choice-based lettings scheme in the Wirral.  We are talking to our colleagues in the other housing associations and at Wirral Council to consider how we may ensure households who wish to move due to the under-occupation charge can be assisted under the current scheme.  WPH has set up a team to deal with those households requiring re-housing and to help them with the practicalities of moving home.  We will arrange and pay for removals and the disconnection and reconnection of utilities.  We are also setting up a mutual exchange database, putting households in touch with each other if they wish to swap homes of different sizes. 


In terms of the specific points you raise in your letter:

Reclassifying Properties Bedrooms

Like all registered housing providers, WPH has to abide by regulations to bring our rents in line for the target rent set for the area.  The rate of increase is prescribed by central government.  Our 30-year business plan, which includes a completed £166m investment programme to bring up properties to the ‘decent homes standard’, is built on this formula and has taken account of existing property sizes. All future services and property improvements are funded from this plan.

WPH has considered the case for reclassifying properties with small bedrooms but, because of the impact it would have on our income stream and in turn the viability of our business plan, we have no large scale plans to reclassify at this time.  We are aware that KHT has classified over 560 properties which followed a review of their stock that indicated that the properties had been incorrectly identified as being larger than they actually were and where they had a complete lack of demand.  WPH has come across a small number of homes where third bedrooms have been reduced in size following investment works such as locating gas central heating boilers and the installation of vertical lifts, and we have already adjusted the number of bedrooms accordingly. If we come across similar examples we will consider reclassifying these cases as well.

If we were to reclassify all properties to a lesser number of bedrooms such as a three bedroom to a two bedroom for those affected by the HB changes as you have requested then we would have to do this for all similar properties including those that would be occupied by those in employment.  This would involve around 8,000 of our homes and this would have a major impact on WPH with the reduction in rent income over the next 30 years of the business plan.  Such a reduction in income would bankrupt us and we would be in breach of our covenants with our funders.  In such a situation WPH would have to seek a rescue through the Government’s Homes and Communities Agency.  The Board and management team of WPH could not knowingly allow such a situation to happen.

There would also be implications for those waiting for housing on the Property Pool Plus housing waiting list.  There would then be a shortage of two- and three-bedroomed properties to re-house families or other larger households as they would have been reclassified to two- and one-bedroomed properties.  This would make the housing situation in the borough much worse.

WPH’s Approach to Court Action and Evictions

WPH will continue to be as supportive as we possibly can be to assist all tenants who are struggling to pay their rent. As highlighted above, we have an in-house provision for welfare benefit advice, we have a very good debt advice partner to refer cases to, we are about to recruit two Money Advisors to assist with budgeting and we have dedicated staff assisting tenants who wish to downsize.  Our income team continues to be professional and competent in providing assistance to avoid eviction.    

When we do come across a tenant who clearly cannot afford to maintain their tenancy, we will discuss all the alternatives on an individual basis and in the case of the under- occupation charge, that is likely to include discussions about downsizing where appropriate accommodation is available.

We will work with tenants who are appealing against a reduction in their benefit and who may be awaiting decisions on Discretionary Housing Payments.  WPH has referred 223 tenants so far to the Council for DHP.

However, the Board of WPH has a clear duty to protect the long-term financial wellbeing of the organisation to ensure that the homes and services provided to all tenants can be maintained.  WPH staff will assist tenants but, ultimately, tenants will be expected to pay their rent. If, however, they do fail to pay their rent despite the support offered by WPH staff, we will have little alternative but to consider applying for possession via the County Court but only as a last resort.  On this basis WPH cannot give a categorical assurance that it will never evict anyone but we will have been looking to give as much assistance as we can before getting to such a stage.

I will not be in a position to send a representative to your evening meeting on Wednesday 10 April but, hopefully, these written comments and my verbal comments made on Monday outline the position of WPH on this issue for you.

Yours sincerely

Brian Simpson
Chief Executive

Hello,

Thank you for your invitation to this evening’s meeting in Wallasey (Wednesday, 10 April). Unfortunately, we’re unable to attend, but we wanted to make sure you had a response from us to your email.

We agree that the Government’s Bedroom Tax is unfair and, like you, we are deeply concerned that it will penalise our customers.

From the on-going help and support we are providing to people, we fully understand the impact this will have upon them. We are continuing to do whatever we can to assist them to manage the additional financial pressures that have come as a result.

Over the past two years we’ve lobbied hard to persuade the Government that their approach was unfair, but the Government chose not to listen. We continue to call upon them to think again and we’d urge everyone affected to raise it with their constituency MP.

We are aware that many of our tenants are already struggling to make ends meet and understand that they are very worried about how they will cope. Over recent weeks and months we have contacted thousands of our customers to offer support. We have staff dedicated to helping people understand the benefit changes and we are doing everything we can to assist. This includes supporting tenants with advice on budgeting and financial matters, as well as applications for Discretionary Housing Payments, assisting people to save money on household energy, and making sure people are claiming the benefits to which they are entitled.

Re-classification of properties is not practicable as a real solution to the Bedroom Tax.

We will continue to support all our customers who fall into arrears and arrange suitable payment plans. Our rents are below market levels and we have arrears policies that set out the importance of helping to support anyone who is struggling with payment and to make ends meet. 

We encourage people to speak with us about their situation so we can help in any way that we can. However, our customers rely on us to collect rent to pay for the services that we deliver, and we will take recovery action against anybody that refuses to engage with us. We urge anyone who is struggling to meet their payments, or who may be unsure of how the changes will affect them, to contact us as soon as possible.

If any of our tenants are worried or need our support, they can call us on these numbers:

Liverpool Housing Trust - 01928 796000
Beechwood Ballantyne Community Housing Association - 0151 606 6262
Contour Homes - 0345 602 1120
Best wishes,

Richard Bramwell
Symphony Housing Group Communications

On behalf of Liverpool Housing Trust, Beechwood Ballantyne Community Housing Association and Contour Homes – part of Symphony Housing Group

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Wirral Combat The Bedroom Tax Activists Pay Visit To Housing Association

On Monday afternoon, a group of twenty Wirral Combat The Bedroom Tax activists demonstrated at the Birkenhead offices of Wirral Partnership Homes, before securing a meeting with three executives from Wirral's largest 'social housing' provider.

During that session, chief executive Brian Simpson refused to redesignate properties so that tenants wouldn't be fined benefits, and conceded that he couldn't rule out evictions, even though he didn't consider the bedroom tax "fair". Throughout, a picture emerged of well-paid bureaucrats mainly concerned with maintaining their own privileges, and caught between the government's aim of privatising them on the one hand and the anger of tenants on the other.

We arrived at the WPH building for noon, and held a short demonstration outside with our placards, before venturing into the main lobby. A representative took our letter, which called on "Social Housing Association Landlords with properties on the Wirral to commit themselves to:

1) Follow the example of Knowsley Housing Trust and redesignate properties from 3 to 2 bedroom + boxroom
2) An assurance that court action involving Tenants who fall into arrears as a result of this Bedroom Tax, will not be taken. 
3) No Evictions of those who fall into arrears as a result of the Bedroom Tax."

We were initially told that Brian Simpson was in a meeting, but we didn't budge, and eventually Simpson, (assistant director) John Mycock and (head of policy and strategy) Mark Armstrong emerged. Simpson offered to meet "a few of you", but when this was refused he agreed to meet with our whole gang. The alternative would have been to call the police, and this would have been very bad public relations.

The discussion with the WPH executives went on for quite a while, even as the news of Thatcher's death filtered through. The first part of the video can be seen below, and others can be clicked through to from there.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Dancing on Maggie Thatcher's Grave

You are alive! Thatcher is dead! In a way, that means you have won! There are rumours of mass parties in Liverpool, Glasgow, Brixton, and no doubt more are hastily being organised in every major city. Wherever there was relative working class prosperity, she sought to bring misery. Communities were literally smashed at the point of police baton.

Of course she was only one person. Whoever had won the 1979 general election would have done the same – that was simply the stage that capitalism was at. There was a crisis of falling profits, and a ruling class counter-offensive had to be launched.

But for those of us who are ‘Thatcher’s children’, and grew up or suffered during her time in power, there can be no question of not celebrating. Effectively, she tried to destroy us – she did destroy many lives – and yet we live on. The mere fact that she has had her time reminds us that nothing is permanent, not even the ruthless “there’s no such thing as society” ideology she propagated. 

It was fitting that I was at an anti-bedroom tax demonstration at a housing association when the news came through via text message. No doubt, she would love the fact that the council housing her government inherited is now on the verge of being fully privatised, as a result of the Cameron government’s latest attack. She would love workfare. She would love the fact that the NHS is now just a brand name.

But she would not love – in fact she would rightly fear – the way these attacks are bringing working class people together once more. On Merseyside in particular it seems, we are building a movement which has the potential to prevent any and all bedroom tax evictions. From there, the potential for a wider movement against austerity is within reach. The conditions for similar fightbacks exist in every place Thatcher ravaged.

So if you are out celebrating tonight or over the next few days, look to the people who are celebrating with you. The fact that they are also joyous over this particular old woman’s demise is proof that you share something crucial. Don’t just celebrate – organise! We’re living in Thatcher’s heaven – let’s create her hell!

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Combat The Bedroom Tax Conference Held In Liverpool

Conference-goers overwhelmingly argued for local autonomy
Inch by painstaking inch, what began in the heads of a few Liverpool activists last November has become a relatively large grassroots movement, with Combat The Bedroom Tax groups sprouting up in neighbourhoods fanning out across Merseyside. For many, going to a political meeting has become a matter of taking a short walk from their homes down the road.

This rapid success can be explained by a combination of two main factors. First, the crying material need which many on Merseyside have to find a way out of their government-imposed bedroom tax misery. Many already just about scraping by on the breadline are now - since 1st April - having to find tens of pounds per week in order to avoid falling into rent arrears. For those already in arrears, the bedroom tax will likely trigger a tipping point which could produce evictions within weeks, not months.

But secondly, grassroots rank and file control has been an essential feature of the movement, dating back to the first mass meeting in mid-January. For many long-standing activists in the area, it has been a breath of fresh air to organise and take action on a mass basis, with no alienating top tables and no long-winded speeches from 'left' politicians or trade union officials slumming it for the day. For the large majority of participants with little to no direct political experience, it has already been a hugely empowering experience, with many discovering a sense of hope brought about by taking part of their destiny into their own hands. Despair is turning to constructive anger.

A few weeks back, one long-standing activist proposed a federal structure, the better to co-ordinate various aspects of our collective activity - for instance organising demonstrations such as the one which took place in the city centre last week. A conference was organised at the Unite building on Islington in the city centre, and was publicised in the many local groups.

The eighty or so participants who assembled for the conference yesterday were - almost inevitably - more drawn from the long-standing 'activist' background than the neighbourhood meetings are. However, there was still a healthy balance in favour of newcomers, and around half the participants are themselves being hit by the bedroom tax. Anarcho-bastard has given a good summary of the proceedings here.

In addition to what he has written, I would add that a small minority of the long-standing activists present wish to take the bedroom tax movement in a different direction - one with more centralised control, and a large say for trade unions. Ultimately, this would reduce the sense of ownership which local groups feel over their own struggle, and therefore play into the hands of the ruling class, large sections of which are seeking the privatisation of 'social housing'. The repeated mention of the "West of Scotland Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation" as a model to follow was particularly concerning.

Anyway, a federal motion was put forward, which will debated in local groups over the next couple of weeks. Whatever individuals may want, and whatever agendas they may have, the genie of grassroots, community-based anger is now out of the bottle, and no trade union bureaucrat will be able to force it back in. The stakes are simply too high for that.

As Anarcho-bastard concluded:
"The focus on direct action and direct democracy is very encouraging. It’s vital that tenants retain control of this struggle and don’t allow themselves to be used by parties or unions for their own politicking. Where this movement goes next should be up to the tenants who are affected by the tax. The will to fight is there and soon the tools will be there too."

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Labour Snubs Liverpool Grassroots Anti-Bedroom Tax Campaign in Confidential Email

Liverpool Labour confidential email
The following is a repost from the Combat The Bedroom Tax blog. It is clear from this and my recent interview with Kensington and Fairfield councillor Louise Baldock that: a) there are significant divisions within the Labour Party over the Bedroom Tax, b) even those most anti-Bedroom Tax (often also tied to housing associations) have nothing to offer people desperately struggling to make ends meet:

A few weeks ago Dingle Combat the Bedroom Tax tenants’ Group decided to invite every Liverpool councillor they could contact to face questions over the Bedroom Tax. They knew that the responses would be tokenistic, but nevertheless, the date was set and yesterday, 2nd April, tenants eagerly awaited a concerned troop of councillors.

They sent along one Liverpool Labour Councillor, Steve Munby, which is slightly better than a kick in the chops. Unbeknown to Mumby, one of the tenants snapped a confidential document that Steve had been referring to whilst he was being annihilated by the meeting. Seems like Liverpool Labour have been having a proper chinwag about Combat the Bedroom Tax:
 
It’s difficult to make out from first glance, but closer inspection and some image enhancement has allowed the following to be transcribed.

Key
[] = omitted due to illegibility 
Subject:  Invitation to South Liverpool Bedroom Tax Campaign Group Meeting
Importance: High
Sensitivity: Confidential
From: Baldock, Louise
Sent: 20 March 2013 22:10
To: Dean, Alan
Subject RE: Invitation to South Liverpool Bedroom Tax Campaign Group Meeting
Sensitivity: Confidential
Hi Alan,

I don’t mind writing back but that is not what they really want.
They want to see one of us there, to shout at us and get angry and let of some of their steam.
I could go and see them, into the lions den, into the angry nest, if none of you want to go yourselves and I can see why you wouldn’t want to, although I’m not a south Liverpool councillor and have no brief(?) for the city’s strategy over welfare benefit management.
Unfortunately our answers to their questions are not great because our national party have not got their [] right on this yet -  as I have said many times and the Mayor has said too.
I’m not sure how it could be in any way constructive other than to stop it from looking like we are not scared to face them.
Answers would be something like this if you are happy with them then I can send them to the questioner on behalf of you all? but they will slate us for not turning up.
What are your doing and what do you intend to do to prevent Liverpool residents from being evicted from their homes
Labour Councillors in Liverpool have established a grassroots members’ campaign which has been called out nationally to demand that the Government abolishes the bedroom tax and which calls upon the Parliamentary Labour Party to commit to abolish it when they are able to form a Government. We have funded this campaign ourselves personally most of the expense being in the establishment of a network(?) where tenants can share their stories and where Labour campaigners can access campaign materials to use in their local groups/areas(?).
We also unanimously passed a motion in the Town Hall which you may have read about in the Liverpool Echo a few weeks ago.
You will be aware that the council itself has no housing stock, all homes having been transferred through stock transfer some years ago under the Lib Dem administration. That said, many Labour councillors are members of Housing Associations, either independently or as appointments from the local authority, and they will be party to discussions about how each association can best manage the bedroom tax and the introduction of universal credit paid directly to tenants to minimize the threat to tenancies. Some of them may well be discussing non/eviction policies. Some of them are also discussing, with our support, measures to help fund the cost of moving, or support with caretaker services to make it easier to do so on the day.
Despite all the proclamations and woolly statements by the Labour Party of how evil the bedroom tax is, they can’t/won’t even commit to abolishing it themselves, as indicated in the email. The reason for this is, as Labour MP Helen Goodman announced in a recent ITV interview, ‘they would keep the bedroom tax’.

Louise Baldock, who penned the email, is a Labour Councillor and Vice-chair of Venture Housing Association, who previously misled the public on Venture’s bedroom tax eviction policy, just to shut a campaigner up. You can read more about that incident here. The email is addressed to Alan Dean, who is Chief Whip of the Liverpool Labour Party Group.

The email clearly indicates that Labour cannot be bothered with the hassle of interacting with a grassroots tenants’ movement that will ask difficult questions and won’t be fooled by the machinations of a party who are clearly after votes off the back of the bedroom tax campaign. Instead, they've forked out dollar on "the establishment of a network(?) where tenants can share their stories". Hmm, this is the first many of us have heard of this network.

The only reason why they sent their stooge, Steve Munby, was so they didn’t lose complete face. Fortunately, Labour’s face imploded on the 16th of March, when they 'found' themselves controlling the platform at what was supposed to be a “non-political” rally in Liverpool; and, furthermore, when they couldn’t be arsed turning up to the grassroots-organised Liverpool demo on the 30th for fear of being exposed as the poltiking snakes that they are, this further cemented the attitude they've taken towards tenants organising for themselves.

Grassroots bedroom tax demo - 30th March
Cllr Baldock, patronisingly, is absolutely right when she says, “into the lions den, into the angry nest”. Around 12,000 tenants’ lives are being thrown into chaos in Liverpool as a result of the bedroom tax, and Liverpool Labour Councillors cannot even be arsed, other than to save face, to turn up because it wouldn’t be “constructive”?!?

It just shows you the attitude of a cadre of representatives who have no intention of, and never had any intention of, representing tenants. The attitude of the email reads like, ‘who wants to deal…yawn…with…yawn…this? I will if…yawn…you will…just earned 3k for…yawn…sitting on a housing board…type…type…yawn…Majorca looks good this time of year’.
Do we even want them representing us? Isn’t it about time we began taking matters into our own hands? No matter who sits in these positions of authority & power, they will always betray working class people. Their interests are not the same as ours even if they have been a lifelong Everton supporter or grew up on a council estate in Halewood. This will be proven time and time again, as opportunists and careerists, some maybe with initially good intentions, get swallowed up by the State and its’ allegiance to business.

This weekend, tenants from Merseyside will be converging on Liverpool to discuss, co-ordinate, share strategies, tactics and skills in order strengthen the fight against the bedroom tax. And regular meetings continue to take place across the city, with a recent Beat the Bedroom Tax Bailiffs workshop being the highlight of the week so far.

Community resistance, without politicians, is the strongest way to combat the bedroom tax.

Thanks to JOD for transcribing the full email.
combatbedroomtax@gmail.com

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