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The (non-)affordability of housing has been at the centre of the financial crisis and the regime of austerity it has provoked. The immediate trigger, let’s not forget, was the banks’ exposure to sub-prime lending in the US, where large mortgages were lent to indebted low-income families who were never in a position to repay. In turn, the politics of austerity has meant that across Europe too, people are now struggling to keep a roof over their heads.
In the UK, with the ‘bedroom tax’ and other benefit cuts beginning to bite, thousands of families will find that their homes have become ‘unaffordable’ as a direct result of government policy. This is especially worrying at a time of high unemployment and poverty pay. Unless they relocate into a cheaper area – often miles from workplaces and family or friends – or accept a move to a smaller, often over-crowded home, increasing numbers will fall further behind on their rents, and face court fines or even eviction.
The situation has certain parallels with the anti-poll tax struggle, which saw thousands of families chased through the courts for non-payment of bills. At that time, local campaign groups were able to provide practical advice, legal representation and direct solidarity action at community level to prevent bailiffs entering properties. Through the national anti-poll tax federation, community groups were linked up into a national structure, which enabled people to share experience and expertise on how best to defend each other. It also helped to join up local groups of community activists to further the political fightback and advance a campaign strategy that ultimately helped to overturn Thatcher’s hated policy.
Mirroring the development of US Occupy – where activists from the big set-piece demonstrations have become engaged in a wave of direct actions against repossessions – we are beginning to see local anti-cuts groups and housing campaigns across Britain discussing the need for concrete solidarity action, as Izzy Koksal’s roundup highlights. Pressure is also being brought to bear on councillors, now faced with direct choices over whether to send in bailiffs to evict families who have fallen behind on the rent as a result of the policy. Local initiatives are aiming to provide sources of low-cost lending to worried people as an alternative to the super-exploitative payday loans companies. There are signs that practical solidarity is beginning to transform an initial response of anger and fear into a willingness to stand and fight.
At the same time, it remains uncertain whether this emerging movement will be able to coalesce into a vehicle capable of offering a viable alternative to the current mainstream political discourse. With UKIP’s recent breakthrough in the polls offering a populist right-wing repository for opposition, it is easy to see why calls for a new party of the left, such as that made recently by the veteran film director Ken Loach, can sound attractive. Of course, bringing such an alternative any closer to realisation is more difficult.
Similarly, in planning for its potentially important ‘People’s Assembly’ later this year, the Coalition of Resistance should be careful to avoid a Field of Dreams model of organising (‘build it and they will come’). Even the most inspiring speeches can get us only so far. What is needed is attention to how the existing campaigns on the ground can be reinforced to maximise the involvement of all political, union and community groups serious about taking practical steps to defend families under attack.
The success of Syriza in Greece, another key development influencing recent thinking on the left, holds lessons here. Syriza developed as a coalition with the very specific priority of giving practical support to the movements emerging in the streets, local communities and workplaces. This meant that it did not appear as an external force forever pushing its own line but as a positive, enabling influence in the various struggles. Only now, nearly 10 years on, is it beginning to slowly, carefully develop the structures of a party.
Of course there is no single template for success, and it remains to be seen whether Syriza will be able to make good on the enormous burden of expectation and responsibility placed on its shoulders. Nevertheless, its methods have helped to build the organisational capacity of the anti-austerity movement in Greece in new and important ways from which we can learn.
The question of what new formation is possible or necessary must always begin from the daily experience and needs of working class communities. It is possible that, in bringing together community organisers, tenants’ groups, legal experts and trade unionists, we might begin to consolidate a national anti‑evictions network, enabling experiences and practical tips to be shared. Such unity in action might in time begin to find electoral expression too.
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook