Community Resistance, RA Vol 4, Issue 11, May/June '01


Understandably, morale in the Oxford East New Labour camp is not what it once was. Results of the recent IWCA survey confirm that support amongst voters is drying up in Blackbird Leys - a ward in which Labour election victories are traditionally taken for granted.

The positively Old Labour Blackbird Leys Councillor, Tony Stockford, has informed IWCA canvassers that he is withdrawing from the June election contest - news which will not be welcomed at all at party HQ. This only increases the headache for New Labour locally.

The struggle to conjure up enthusiasm for the County Council election battle with the IWCA is illustrated by the attendance at the recent Oxford East constituency Labour Party meeting. Only seven members could be arsed to turn up, three of them being cabinet minister Andrew Smith, his wife the City Councillor and ex-Lord Mayor Val Smith, and the aforementioned Tony Stockford.

Issue six of the Leys Independent, an 'election special', is currently in production. Included are the results of the recent house-to-house survey, a profile of the County Council candidate Stuart Craft, and an article entitled 'New Labour red tape prevents use of IWCA name' which explains why the candidate will, for this election only, be standing under an 'Independent' label.

The survey which was taken to over 3,000 doorsteps on the Blackbird Leys estate, has been a real shot in the arm for the IWCA activists involved. The general feeling towards the canvassers was summed up in the words of one resident: 'At least you made the effort to come round, not like the other buggers.' These sentiments have been repeated time and time again across the estate.

Much valuable information has been collected from the survey, and during the course of the campaign the IWCA has been called in to represent residents who are frustrated by the lack of help received from local councillors.

All work and no play, however, makes Jack a dull boy, so the Blackbird Leys IWCA took some time out to organise a trip for 43 residents to Ostende, Belgium, on 24 March. Like the previous IWCA trip to Calais, places in the three minibuses were sold out almost as soon as they were made available. The trip was a very enjoyable day out and all those involved have asked to be put down for the next continental excursion in the summer.

In addition, a coach trip to Alton Towers in July is also being organised to satisfy the demand created by the success of last year's Drayton Manor trip. Also on the social front, the IWCA Children's Cinema has recently gained access to a projector and screen, which will make more regular screenings possible.

Morale amongst Oxford IWCA activists is definitely on the up and up.


The election results for Blackbird Leys were :

Barbara Gatehouse (Lab)
David Brown (Con)
Stuart Craft (Ind)
Mark Hinnells (Lib Dem)
Patricia Dickson (Green)


The IWCA kicked off the new year with two significant victories. The issue of mobile phone masts being imposed on council estates was thought to be an issue pretty much dead and buried after the Lib Dem council had announced a ban on them. However, a phonecall from a concerned tenant revealed that the council, obviously swayed by the amounts of money being offered by the phone companies, was quietly looking at granting permission for masts again. The IWCA immediately leafletted and petitioned the estate concerned and, working alongside tenant association representatives from across the borough, finally secured an official three-year ban on any further masts from the Lib Dem council. The IWCA then slammed the Labour party and particularly Councillor Shonagh Methven for claiming the victory as their own; "a remarkable feat" an IWCA spokesperson told the Highbury & Islington Express "given the fact that in all the leafletting of estates and meetings I attended, never once did I stumble over Cllr Methven or any of her colleagues."

As part of building up its profile, the IWCA doubled the size of the Spring edition of it's Islington Independent newsletter from a four-page A4 to A3. The lead article announced a hard-earned victory for the local FACTS (Fight Against Council Tenancy Sell-offs) campaign on the Kings Square estate. After facing strong opposition from tenants and campaigners, the council announced that it was finally throwing in the towel and abandoning its plans to privatise the estate. This comes as a particularly bitter blow to the Lib Dems, as the estate is home to the council's chair of housing. The Chair of the FACTS campaign, who is also a Kings Square tenant, told the Islington Independent: "We're delighted that the council have finally been forced to take notice of tenants, it's just a shame that the thousands of pounds that have been wasted on this scheme hadn't been spent on repairs. At the end of the day we refused to be blackmailed, we pay our rent and all we want are the decent homes we are entitled to. What tenants want is investment not privatisation."

A large section of the Islington Indi dealt with the issue of anti-social behaviour. The IWCA's initiatives to tackle the problem received widespread media coverage. The Highbury & Islington Express reported: "The IWCA has put forward its proposals for tackling the problem of anti-social behaviour on Islington's estates. The organisation has called for places to be made available to all the borough's youths at after school clubs and summer play schemes. Members have also proposed that funding should be allocated for a Community Restorative Justice programme where young offenders are taken to meet their victims and make amends for their crimes. An IWCA spokesperson said, "Many people on our estates feel abandoned by the council and police and have become virtual prisoners in their own homes." The Islington Gazette carried two separate articles on the proposals for setting up a CRJ programme and the funding of youth facilities, quoting an IWCA spokesperson as saying: "Apart from the obvious advantage of a better quality of life for all residents of all ages it would also lead to long-term savings due to a reduction in crime."

In the last month, the IWCA have taken both Labour and the Lib Dems to task in the local media over their stance on affordable housing, changes to local democracy and their support for the 'contract culture' which has seen companies making huge profits from providing poor services.

The forthcoming General Election means that we have also witnessed the arrival of the Socialist Alliance onto the political scene. Their campaign in the south of the borough against government minister Chris Smith limps along, lacking any real focus or cutting edge. They appear far happier tailing the borough's other MP, Labour-left Jeremy Corbyn. A number of the LSA's efforts have been warmed-over versions of issues or campaigns taken up previously by the IWCA such as the IWCA's condemnation of the exclusive, yuppie-only, housing to be incorporated into the new Rose Theatre development. When the LSA finally decided to take this issue up, it was a full six months after the IWCA's original intervention!

The IWCA continues to work at raising its profile in the area with a number of new campaigns already planned.


When the Hackney IWCA was launched just three years ago we were faced with an aggressive 'New Deal for Communities' quango dedicated to selling-off council housing in Shoreditch. There was no organised opposition, and of course all three political parties in the area supported it, as did the three glossy magazines delivered in the area by the Council, the New Deal and the private company that manages the local council housing.

We came out very strongly against the New Deal, branding it a "Raw Deal." Now things have changed to the extent that the New Deal is no longer a major threat and we can now use it to bring about real gains for the area. The New Deal organisation has officially bid for £55 million of government money to refurbish every flat in Shoreditch in the next seven years and dropped all plans for privatisation. Their magazine - which has twice carried full page attacks on the IWCA in previous years - has recently covered a meeting we helped to organise to plan for a campaign of withholding rent in protest at rent rises.

The IWCA has not achieved this on our own - and a number of local tenant activists can take a lot of credit - but we can also state that it would not have been possible without our consistent presence in meetings, in the letters page of the Hackney Gazette and in the columns of our newsletter, the Hackney Independent. What we managed to do was to give confidence to the strongest tenant activists that, not only did they not have to accept wholesale privatisation, they didn't even have to accept any compromises of a few blocks being sold off or the PFI scheme. When the New Deal's own rigged survey results came in, showing that 93% were against their estates being sold, the New Deal officers should have realised that the game was up. But they still put forward their "preferred option" of demolishing 20% of the council housing. Unfortunately for them, 100 angry tenants turned up at the meeting to observe the Board, and all the work they had done at house-training the most amenable "community representatives" was lost, as the Board felt the pressure and voted for full refurbishment of all council housing.

While the Hackney Socialist Alliance has been concentrating on "Taxing the Rich" and "Cancelling Third World Debt", the IWCA has been growing in numbers and influence by consistently taking up the immediate interests of the area's working class majority.

Below we re-print an article from the recent issue of the Hackney Independent - expanded from four-page A4 to A3 and delivered free to 15,000 homes in our target area - which shows the kind of practical work we have been doing:

Harwood Court - the block that fought back
Tenants in one of Shoreditch's most neglected blocks have shown what can be achieved when people work together to stand up for their interests. Hackney Council and the New Deal, until recently, believed that the tenants wanted Harwood Court knocked down. Until, that is, somebody actually asked the tenants.

The IWCA has been active in Harwood Court since September 2000, working alongside tenants and asking them what they want for the block, through a series of canvassing sessions. At every stage, the tenants have been consulted and involved and as in most blocks the tenants all agree what the main problems are - security, repairs and cleaning. Because a lot of the low rise blocks in the area have security doors, Harwood Court is an obvious target for a number of anti-social elements and the tenants have suffered from more drug dealing, muggings and intimidation than most blocks. Evidence of vandalism and hard drug use is obvious to see and the day before one of our tenants' meetings, a young girl was the victim of a serious sexual assault in broad daylight on the stairs. On top of this, many of the flats didn't have central heating and the wind whistles in through dodgy windows.

IWCA members worked with several tenants to collect signatures calling for entry phones to be installed and for a full refurbishment of the block to be carried out, holding meetings in the lobby, drawing up a manifesto of tenants' priorities and organising a delegation of tenants to put the petition to the New Deal Board, who have the money to make a difference. The fact that 90% of the flats in the block signed up to the petition and that tenants themselves went to put their case, meant that the New Deal Board agreed to support the proposals for entry phones and work is now underway to improve life in the block. Coincidentally, since the IWCA and tenants got active in the block, the council have started putting central heating into all flats, which is a start. But pressure needs to be kept up to make sure that entry phones are installed and the longer term goals - like refurbishment - aren't forgotten like all the previous promises.

There's more to be done and we're not complacent that change will happen overnight, but as long-term tenant June Cleevely said "Morale in the block was very low and it was good to see the IWCA come in and take some interest. This encouraged people to feel that they could change things". The success of the Harwood Court tenants shows what can be achieved when community politics addresses the real issues.


Recently, in the London Borough of Havering, an independent candidate, Neal Stanton stood on a working class-first ticket in a local council by-election in Harold Hill; a huge, sprawling, suburban estate. From a standing start the candidate, up against Labour, Tories, Lib Dems, UKIP and the pseudo Residents Association (the second biggest 'party' on the council), came fourth with 134 votes or 11%; just a few votes short of pipping the RA to third.

Shortly after the election, Neal, a former local Labour party Chairman, announced the launch of the Harold Hill Independent Working Class Association. He told the Harold Recorder: "Today sees the launch of an exciting new political force in Harold Hill. The Harold Hill IWCA is a community-based organisation which aims to redress the present diabolical situation where the working class majority on Harold Hill have no real representation. We will start straight away to address the problems faced by the residents and tenants on Harold Hill, through organised campaigns, community activism and, most importantly, by listening to, and acting on behalf of, the working class of our estate. Already we have been raising issues at the forums, talking to local people and taking up housing problems. However, we are under no illusion about the task ahead. Winning the trust, confidence and ultimately the backing of the community we live in will take a considerable amount of time and hard work."

One of the IWCA's first major initiatives was to organise a public meeting in response to a call from local residents for action to be taken over escalating anti-social behaviour from gangs of youths. The meeting was well attended, with over a hundred people turning up to air their views, and has led to the setting up of a local Action Group to address the problem. IWCA spokesperson Neal Stanton, who chaired the meeting, told the Harold Gazette: "We have got to work together and stick together as that is the only way we will overcome these problems. Everyone I have spoken to has said the troubles have eased since our last meeting a couple of weeks ago. But if the gangs sense we have turned our backs or lowered our guard they will come back. It is very important for us to keep taking positive steps forward. Our newsletter will be a powerful weapon because it will allow people to see exactly what is going on and how we are progressing."

In a relatively short space of time, parts of the community have come together to look at what the community can do to 'help themselves', completely rejecting notions of calling the police or wasting their time on councillors who are simply not interested.

The type of community resistance being carefully built in Havering, dispels the notion that this kind of political alternative can only be built in the so-called 'radical boroughs' of the inner cities.

Reproduced from RA Bulletin Volume 4, Issue 11, May/June '01