Over the past few months a revolt has been brewing on the estates and tower blocks of Leeds. Across the city, Hands off our Homes has been organising community meetings in opposition to the bedroom tax and meeting hundreds of people who are prepared to stand up to this brutal attack.
Iain Dalton, Leeds Socialist Party & Hands off our Homes activist
Around 8,000 are affected in the city, a large number of them single people whom the council had a policy of placing into two bed tower block flats which would have otherwise been empty. Yet there are very few single bedroom properties which these people are supposed to move in to, around 50 in the whole city which are available.
From Armley, to Little London, Middleton, Chapeltown and elsewhere meetings have attracted 30-50 attendees, with each one finding people keen to beginning organising more widely against this attack in their community. The campaign has the backing of Leeds TUC, GMB and Unison branches at the local council, Unite Community and other trade unions locally.
In Armley, with a series of local activities over recent weeks, campaigners have found a warm response on the streets with wide swathes of people opposed, not just those facing the bedroom tax itself, all of whom want to take away posters showing their opposition to this brutal attack, as well as encouraging friends to join our local weekly meetings in the area.
Everywhere we campaign on this issue we meet people whose lives will be destroyed by this attack. From single parents who will have nowhere for their children to stay, to couples who sleep apart due to health problems, to the woman who five days after her relative she cared for died received a letter telling her she was now over occupying. The stories are endless, but so is the determination of those who won’t leave their houses to be crammed into whatever mansion owning Tory ministers deem fit.
Not only is the bedroom tax hitting those on miserly benefits, but the cuts to council tax benefit mean a double-whammy. People just simply cannot afford to pay, they are already wearing extra jumpers as they can’t afford to turn the heating on. Instead they are refusing to starve themselves for the sake of this tax to help pay off the deficit from the bankers bailout and anouncing they won’t pay. Hands Off Our Homes is organising advice for people as to their rights, which is increasingly important as one local housing association has sent letters made out to look like new contracts stating ‘paying all rent due is priority‘ and imply that if they don’t sign and agree tenants face losing their homes.
Whilst the main goal we are working towards at present is a city-wide demonstration on 20th April, this Saturday saw another demonstration called officially by a few local Labour councillors and ‘Labour Left’. Yet apart from making sure they were stood at the front of the protest when the press took photos they gave no lead, they didn’t even address the protest. This was left to Hands off our Homes campaigners, who promoted the demo on the 20th and called on the council not to implement the bedroom tax. Yet at present the council hasn’t even gone as far as councils in Dundee, Islington, Brighton & Hove and several more who have made some limited pledges to try to avoid evictions for bedroom tax arrears.
Our petition calling on the council not to evict tenants, to refuse to implement the bedroom tax and to instead embark on a serious council house building programme that could provide accomodation for all those who need it (the council house waiting list in Leeds is around 27,000) was hugely popular, with people queuing at times to sign it. This certainly wasn’t a demonstration in support of Labour’s crocodile tears whilst doing the Tories dirty work. The arguement that the council should swallow the cost of the bedroom tax was widely accepted, especially when the £70 milliom+ the council holds in reserves was pointed out, and the huge costs that pursuing people who can’t pay would run up for council.
Of course, the council leadership are hardly going to encourage the non-payment of this ‘tax’, after all if they can swallow the cost of this attack, then why do they have to inflict all the other cuts in Leeds? Why can’t they mobilise people as is already happening over the bedroom tax, to fight for the money needed for the city to provide the jobs and services the city needs, not just what crumbs Cameron and Osborne want to let us keep? It would throw their cuts budget (3rd one in a row this year presided over by Labour) into disarray, but it is the only way to provide decent quality public services in the city.
If they refuse then Hands off our Homes should stand or back anti-cuts candidates across the city, as happened in a number of wards in the city last year. Prior to the bedroom tax, the Socialist Party (standing as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition) won over 5% of the vote in Armley, but this could be more this year with widespread report and a further descredited Labour Party after local councillor Alison Lowe stated at a Hands off our Homes public meeting that ‘evictions will be necessary’.
It points to the argument that Socialist Party members have been making for some time, ordinary working people have no political voice. We need a new mass workers party, not just to fight the cuts but to argue for a society for the needs of the millions, not the profits of the millionaires. One that could, for example, nationalise the banks under democratic control to fund the social housing that is desperately needed to solve the housing crisis, whilst also providing much needed jobs. It is those sort of measures to bring about a socialist society that can offer a way out of the crisis-ridden capitalism we are currently enduring.
Join the Leeds Hands off our Homes Anti-Bedroom Tax Demo on April 20th. Assemble 12pm, Victoria Gardens (outside the Art Gallery)