Does anyone still really want to listen to Osborne’s dogmatic theory of ‘expansionary fiscal contraction’? This abstract idea claims that if only the private sector employers were freed from the shackles of basic employment rights and there were deep enough government cuts to stop the public ‘crowding out’ private investment; we would all reach the nirvana of growth and prosperity. However, the majority of people fortunately reject austerity; with a recent poll showing the British people would prefer an economic strategy closer to President Hollande than Osborne. For Barking and Dagenham Against the Cuts the next step is resistance. The conference last Saturday brought together local people, knowledgeable about the impact cuts will play on their community, to debate alternatives.
This was a conference, however modest, that brought together experts from Defend Council Housing, Keep Our NHS Public and Coalition of Resistance, and was informative, accessible and certainly an experience to build further resistance on. Warm welcomes and teas aside, we were all invited to listen to these inspiring and insightful accounts of how this deprived borough of London will fall further victim to austerity imposed by our millionaire cabinet. But crucially, initiatives, and practical examples of how best to approach these challenges, were the goal. We broke into different workshops that throughout the day discussed jobs, benefits, pensions, NHS, council housing, and the fight against fascism. All action points and feedback were reported back at the end.
The Defend Council Housing workshop was very informative. With over 5 million on the housing waiting list, it is clear that there is a real crisis in housing. We heard from local residents who could talk on behalf of neighbors with either severe housing needs, overcrowding, or who were being forced to pay extortionate rent in the private sector. There is no doubt that housing demands urgent attention. The meeting addressed government attacks on tenancy agreements and initiatives to ensure local people are aware of their rights as legal aid budgets diminish and Citizen Advice Bureaus start to buckle under the pressure of funding cuts.
The workshop gave an accessible breakdown of the housing jargon, combined with opportunity to share stories of the impact of the government’s attacks. It made it painstakingly clear that what the government defines as ‘affordable rents’ bare little reality to those in living in Barking. Stories were exchanged, including one woman describing neighbors who were thrown out, along with all of their belongings, as rents were not met and private landlords took matters into their own hands. A teacher highlighted the feelings of insecurity of many living on 6 month fixed contracts; unsure of the future. We heard further stories about the many families in Barking and Dagenham currently living in one room, and the impact this is having on the children growing up in the household.
The belief that councils should provide affordable, adequate council housing was unanimous. Government imposed rent controls and sufficient regulation to ensure basic standards of provision (i.e. heating, gas, water, free of damp, replace broken windows/furniture etc.) for private sector housing were among the articulated demands to meet local needs.
The workshop also covered the evolution of council housing, spanning from Thatcher’s Right to Buy (1980), to the abolition of rent controls. For Barking and Dagenham at least, these changes paved the way for New Labour to use private finance initiative (PFI) to build hospitals and homes, whilst draining the council of money. These contracts ensured further housing would be open to private landlords rather than desperately needed council housing, resulting in a national increase of evictions by private landlords, which are up by 17per cent since the 2007 crash – Barking far exceeds that with an increase of 30 per cent in the last year.
The conference focused on outreach, and organising local tenancy and housing associations to meet the shortfall in advice with leaflets and meetings, and working together to resist further evictions.
The workshop on jobs, pensions and workfare was a useful session that clearly linked all three areas, and attendees shared experiences on how to resist the changes that are taking place. One man from Remploy, a leading provider of employment services that support disabled jobseekers, expressed concerns about his ability to pay rent if the local factory closes. There are plans to resist the closure, and save the factory that provides jobs to over 500 employees locally on 4 July, but with ‘no jobs out there’, the man felt himself and fellow employees were being ‘put on the scrapheap’. Plans to demand union support for the protest are underway. In addition, workers from Remploy, will be protesting outside the house of Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Ian Duncan Smith.
There were two additional workshops that covered multiculturalism and resisting fascism, and the NHS privatisation. Both are historically crucial topics for Barking and Dagenham, with the BNP having previously been the second-largest party, and one of the local hospitals being in dire financial straits.
However, it is clear that with modest but ambitious collectives like Barking and Dagenham Against the Cuts emerging, resistance to such pressures is not going to be muted. It was apparent from the start that sense of community, knowledge of local services and understanding of the impacts of the cuts, is what unites this group and gives them the tools to stand up to the politicians in Whitehall implementing and supporting these damaging initiatives.
For more information on Barking and Dagenham’s fight against the cuts, you can visit the group’s website: www.bdagainstthecuts.wordpress.com
Yasmin Gunaratnam reflects on John Berger’s gut solidarity with the stranger
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
In this extract from his new book The Candidate, Alex Nunns tells the inside story of how Jeremy Corbyn scraped onto the Labour leadership ballot in 2015
Graham Jones proposes a framework for a diverse movement to flourish
Musician Eliane Correa reflects on the fading revolution
Trump's victory is another sign of the failure of the centre-left's narrative on climate change. A new message is needed, and new politicians to deliver it, writes Alex Randall
Siobhán McGuirk says the question we are too afraid to ask is simple - what kind of society leads to Donald Trump as President?
The battle lines are clear. Democracy is in peril and the left must take itself seriously electorally and politically. Ruth Potts speaks to Gary Younge, who was based in Muncie, Indiana, for the US election, about the implications of Donald Trump’s victory
We need a society built on openness, community and equality to truly defeat everything that trump stands for, writes Nick Dearden.
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas
Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'
The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion
The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.
Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.
Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism
What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry