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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.
The collapse of Carillion could be a watershed moment. Let's seize it to end economically disastrous outsourcing schemes. By Cat Hobbs.
Campaign groups highlight UK complicity in Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses.
Three founders of Momentum talk to Ashish Ghadiali about the two years that have transformed their lives and the fortunes of the British left.
Andrew Smith from Campaign Against the Arms Trade gives the run-down on one of the UK's most profitable - and most deadly - industries.
The real story behind the fire in Grande Synthe’s Linière refugee camp, Dunkirk. From 'Bordered Lives – How Europe fails refugees and migrants' by Hsiao-Hung Pai
Javier Pérez De La Cruz writes about the working class Berlin neighbourhood wrung dry by gentrifiers.
Across the world, thousands of protesters are taking on the planet’s biggest fossil fuel companies. We should support them – and if we can, we should join them. By Kara Moses
Students are suffering the effects of financial instability, stress, and slashed mental health services. Mark Crawford reports.
They're not defending free speech - they're just seeking to shore up their own power, writes Ilyas Nagdee
How can the heavily-armed Israeli state claim to be victimised by one teenage activist? By Richard Seymour.
Jeremy Hunt is poised to flog the last of the NHS
Peter Roderick sounds the alarm on an 'attack on the fundamental principles of the NHS'.
Viva Siva, 1923-2018
A. Sivanandan, who died this week, was a hugely important figure in the politics of race and class. As part of our tributes, Red Pepper is republishing this 2009 profile of him by Arun Kundnani
Sivanandan: When memory forgets a giant
Daniel Renwick calls for the whole movement to discover and remember the vital work of A. Sivanandan, who died this week
A master-work of graphic satire
American Jewish cartoonist Eli Valley’s comic commentary on America, the US Jewish diaspora and Israel is nothing if not near the knuckle, Richard Kuper writes
Meet the frontline activists facing down the global mining industry
Activists are defending land, life and water from the global mining industry. Tatiana Garavito, Sebastian Ordoñez and Hannibal Rhoades investigate.
Transition or succession? Zimbabwe’s future looks uncertain
The fall of Mugabe doesn't necessarily spell freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, writes Farai Maguwu
Don’t let Corbyn’s opponents sneak onto the Labour NEC
Labour’s powerful governing body is being targeted by forces that still want to strangle Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, writes Alex Nunns
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism