On the first day of the fourth week of the occupation of Bradford Westfield site, the campaign is still going strong. Andy Smith from Leeds North West branch visited and was welcomed warmly by the only occupation in the country demanding a shopping centre!
Andy Smith, Leeds North West Socialist Party
The occupation of the Westfield site in Bradford City Centre is difficult to understand without seeing it in person. There is a hole. A really massive hole that doesn’t have the usual industrial machines that would suggest it is going to be something else, just lots of puddles, some flooding, a tent and two very graciously (and necessarily) donated caravans. The sheer size of the hole is incredible and takes several minutes to walk around, even without going down into the fresh foundations of the car park.
The occupation is initially something that it would seem odd for a member of the Socialist Party to write about, as they are asking for something to happen on the Westfield site, for anything to happen on the Westfield site, basically for capitalist employers to move in as quickly as possible and another super shopping centre to be built like a grotesque tribute to capitalism but after talking with the occupiers, it makes perfect sense. The site seems to have been practically given away by the council to the developers, without any real conditions to develop or reason for them to consider the people or the aesthetic of Bradford at all, being put on Westfield, the developers.
The occupation in Bradford, due to the frustration at the lack of jobs and a number of other run-down locations across the city centre, has received huge support from the local community. Other occupations, on the back of the international Occupy movement were often thrown together by inspired activists quite quickly, with little preparation and resulted in both a lack of direction, but also ended up dealing with numerous social issues such as homelessness etc (the existence of which is an indictment of capitalism), but which also can be quite exhausting for those not experienced with this. At Westfield, the occupiers seem to have circumvented these issues with planning before occupying (as evidenced by well prepared banners etc at the site), but also through only a more limited number of people being fully involved in the occupation, whilst still trying to involve and develop wider support.
The occupiers are also angry about the hypocrisy of the Olympics, being heralded as a great benefit to all the country is far from the truth. The developers, Westfield, have built the foundations of a new shopping centre and done nothing else for a suspiciously long time. They have however managed to start and finish work on a development that Olympic visitors will have to pass by to reach the Olympic sites (one of which was a venue for a YFJ protest against Workfare in March).
The occupiers feel that Bradford is being underdeveloped and ignored again. One of the occupiers gave 20 years as a figure for the last time politicians cared about Bradford before Respect initiated the ‘Bradford Spring’. It was difficult not to do the maths in my head while talking and realise that it was 22 years since the tragic loss of Pat Wall, the Militant supporting MP for Bradford North sadly passed away.
There is a history of people fighting in Bradford and it is a historic industrial city, particularly known for worsteds (fine wools). The city saw the huge Manningham Mills strike in the 1890-91 that was shortly followed by the formation of the Independent Labour Party in the city.
At the occupation, the demands are clear, they want something to happen on the Westfield site before more shops and businesses go (large job losses at Thomas Cooks were announced only last week) and more lives are ruined by being denied opportunities. With youth unemployment at one of the highest in country, 42%, which was enough to trigger massive campaigns and occupations in Spain, the need for jobs creation is clear. The occupiers themselves admit, that in line with their individual political beliefs, which vary, there is a higher purpose and that is to provide a future for the youth of Bradford by creating jobs and if that requires shops to come in and build, then so be it, for now.
The suggestion by the Tories of managed decline in Liverpool in the 80s resulted in a massive fight back organised by Pat Wall’s comrades in the Militant who won the labour movement there to getting the Labour controlled council to set a needs budget and then win the required funding from the Tories. The need to do the same in Bradford is evident.
So far during the occupation, the council have met with the occupiers, only to tell them there is nothing they can do. Despite recent elections meaning the city has five Respect councillors and an MP, in and of itself it is not enough to affect positive change and force the Labour- led council to stand up for the ordinary working people they purport to represent. A clear strategy and a fight back on all fronts is required and this is the clear call from the occupiers themselves.
Rather than seeing the site go to waste as at present, the Socialist Party would fight for a democratically elected committee, with trade union and local representation to take control of the site and develop it in a socially useful manner to provide employment and services in the local area. The council currently argue this is not possible as it would cost them £80m to put a compulsory purchase order on the site. However, the damage done to local people and Westfield’s failure to enact their purpose, to develop, should initiate a call for zero compensation due to costs afforded to the city.
If councils are allowed to give away public land, while leaving the top two floors of the nearby library derelict and do not think to place demands that would benefit the community that elected them, then this creates a serious question as to their purpose and justifiability. Whilst schools are being prepared as homeless shelters in expectation of next years’ welfare reforms pricing people out of housing, a united effort to halt capitalisms effect on cities like Bradford and the living standards of the working class is becoming beyond necessary.
The occupiers have recently asked for firewood, food and water and any donations would be greatly received and provide an excellent opportunity to go and meet these fantastic, inspirational activists. I for one, will be going back as often as possible to support and build the campaign in Bradford for a better future for the youth and the rest of Bradford.