Community Resistance, RA Vol 4, Issue 12, July/Aug '01

The Govanhill Pool campaign originated from a public meeting called by the Govanhill/Crosshill Community council in mid January where user groups and council representatives spoke to a crowd of about 120 people. Individuals who gave their names arranged another meeting for the following week and have met weekly since to co-ordinate the campaign. IWCA members were amongst a group of a dozen or so who initiated the campaign.

The campaign had three distinct groups, 'direct action', 'strategy' and 'press'. The IWCA were primarily involved in the direct action and strategy while the IWCA national number was employed by the press group. It was the IWCA who convinced others of the occupation idea, and on the night it happened it was IWCA activists who gave the lead. Since then around two dozen different people have stayed in the building on a round the clock basis while the picket has 70-100 people who at one time or another do quite regular hours. The pool's closure would effect a vast area. One swimming group has 200 members who meet twice a week. The other pool available is in another area approx 6 miles away.

Typically, the left were slow in getting involved even though it was the SWP who had initially tipped-off the IWCA. For two whole months the local Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) branch contributed no more than a few individuals. By contrast the IWCA donated £50 to the campaign with the proviso that we would double it if all the parties equalled the gesture. This was not taken up, but it served to highlight where the IWCA was at, with regards the community generally, and how others, including the SSP, treat the community as a springboard to their 'higher' ideals. In March the IWCA organised a leaflet drop to 2,500 houses in the area. Furthermore, the recent leafleting and canvassing of approx 800 homes by the IWCA has raised the profile both of the IWCA and individuals within it. One IWCA member in particular who was co-opted as a local 'community councillor' prior to the pool campaign has earned support, both as someone who had demonstrated his commitment to the area before the pool campaign became a 'cause celebre', and from elderly women in particular who see him as a 'young blood'. At a rally in March he represented the IWCA on the platform. When elections are held in Sept/Oct he intends to put his name forward for election. As we go to press a judicial review is in the offing. On the 10/7/01 campaigners were given a writ to get out of the pool within the next 48hrs.Having done the canvassing the IWCA will publish the findings. There is also a plan to leaflet 1,200 homes in the area with a call for a public meeting to address the next steps.

Thornwood Park

The campaign against the closure and developmentof Thornwood Park, began in the middle of March. Along with the IWCA, reps from the SSP and the SWP attended the first meeting. At the first semi-public planning meeting held shortly afterwards - restricted to community/community activists - 50 people attended. The IWCA outlined a strategy which involved canvassing working class opinion on the choices available. While not strictly an IWCA campaign, the IWCA which usually chairs the meetings is hugely influential. For instance, though local MSP and MPs are used for publicity, community work remains at core of the campaign. Of the 3,000 people canvassed a mere 2.3% backed the development plan while 21.2% were for development - only if money was made available for use by the community. 55% opted to fight the council for better services and no development, while a further 21.5% favoured leaving the park as it is.

In total 2,000 signed the petition against the development plans, while a further 300 letters objecting to the planning application were submitted.

A 'fun day' - barbecue, music, etc was organised on with 500 people turning up. Because the SWP/SSP failed to organise any of the things they claimed they would do, and did not collect their ballots for four weeks after the proper date, many in the community have already lost patience with them.

The future: The basic plan is to show the community it can organise events in the park without outside influence, things like cinema, play stations in park, dj workshops, wall climbing, nature trail (area of park with protected life) are all planned. If successful, this will hopefully show what can be done without resources, so therefore opens the question on what could be achieved WITH resources. Overall this work, will build confidence as well as allowing IWCA to work in agenda and introduce faces to the community with a view to the future.

(Latest: a councillor who originally was for the development has stated after ballot that he now opposes development.)

Members of Harold Hill IWCA along with local people, organised a meeting in the Salvation Army Hall in Petersfield Avenue, aimed at organising against the continuing anti-social behaviour which has caused so many problems for all who live in and around Petersfield shops.

Many local people who attended the meeting expressed the view that despite constant calls for something to be done, the police, local councillors and the local MP had failed to come up with any solutions to the problem. Members of the IWCA had made it clear at the start of the meeting that the solutions to the problems had to come from local people, because ultimately it is local people who are suffering.

There were various suggestions as to what could and should be done. One local person suggested a 'name and shame' campaign, another videoing those causing the problems so as evidence was caught on camera, one of the most surprising suggestions was that all local people withhold there council tax in protest at nothing being done.This from many 'law abiding' people who were quite willing to face prosecution in order to show their disgust at how the majority of people on Harold Hill are treated, the IWCA believes this show not only the courage of local people but just how far the political representatives of this area have failed.

A local activist had this to say, "The time is fast approaching when working class people on estates like Harold Hill have to start addressing issues like anti-social behaviour themselves. For far to long this area has had councillors who simply do not care about what goes on - mainly because they don't live here. They only act as though they're interested when elections are coming up, hence the sight of police over the last few weeks, just happens to 'coincide' with the General Election".

Maybe local people agree with Labour councillor and Mayor Brian Eagling who believes "some verbal and physical abuse cannot be stopped." He also claimed "most of the young people are being blamed for things that has nothing to do with them". What was surprising however, was the various articles in the local press detailing how local councillors and the MP were coming together to discuss the problem with -Yes, you guessed it - the mobs of youths involved in the anti-social behaviour.This is of no surprise to us; once again local politicians only start to do something when there is an election around the corner. The IWCA rejects this, believing it is the right of all local people to live free from this type of anti-social behaviour.

A leaflet outlined that, "The IWCA has committed itself to work with local people in trying to find solutions that not only reduces problems like anti-social behaviour, but also involves local people so as we all can live without fear of attacks, vandalism and harassment.Some may ask what is different about the IWCA? Well IWCA activists live and come from Harold Hill - what effects you, affect us.We will be holding various meetings over the coming months in order to discuss the issues that local people want to see addressed; look out for our adverts and come along."

Members of Harold Hill IWCA spent many weeks collecting names of local council tenants who were fed-up with the appaling housing repair service they were getting from Havering council. Over 400 tenants signed the petition, which was presented to the Labour Mayor of Havering Dennis O Flynn. The IWCA held a stall at Hilldene shops where dozens of local people signed the petition. Members of Hackney IWCA, who have been fighting for better housing services for local council tenants for sometime, joined Harold Hill IWCA on the day.

Harold Hill IWCA member Neil Stanton outlined why the IWCA had organised the petition "when the IWCA was formed we promised that we would be a different type of organisation than the political parties in this area. This meant we would actually listen to what issues and problems local people wanted highlighting and act, overwhelmingly the problem of housing repairs was the issue that came up time and again. This meant actually taking the time to visit tenants and discuss what needed doing. It is as simple as that".

Blackbird Leys IWCA achieved an impressive result of almost 300 votes at the 7 June County Council election - it's first electoral contest.

Independent candidate, Stuart Craft, who stood on behalf of the IWCA, came in third behind Labour and the Tories with 294 votes, beating the Lib Dems and the Greens, both well-established at local level.

Though only a relatively new organisation, the IWCA has already carried out substantial work on the Blackbird Leys estate which explains how, in the words of one observer, "it came from nowhere," to take 9% of the vote cast.

Through campaigning and canvassing, particular areas of Blackbird Leys have become IWCA strongholds. This support is steadily spreading to other areas.

Friends have also been won through the numerous social activities organised by the local IWCA branch such as the now regular trips to France and Belgium and the upcoming visit to Alton Towers. The ongoing childrens' cinema project is also a very popular feature in the IWCA's repertoire.

Feedback from the IWCA's newspaper, Leys Independent, has also seen a sharp increase since the beginning of this year thus encouraging more people to become involved in the IWCA.

Outwith the election, the IWCA has been the focus of recent media attention since, at the request of local residents, it has issued a press release highlighting two areas of the estate where tenants are being forced to endure heroin dealers as neighbours.

All the local papers carried articles on the subject in which the IWCA was quoted and BBC Radio Oxford featured a very sympathetic interview with the IWCA's Stuart Craft on a walkabout of the afflicted areas. Residents were very pleased with Craft's performance on the show on which he took to task the authorities for their lack of interest in the concerns of Blackbird Leys' residents.

Craft left housing chief, David Trewsdale, and Thames Valley Police to respond to the allegation that they are colluding on a policy of containment against the decent majority on Blackbird Leys and handing dealers and anti-social elements a licence to do as they please as long as they only do it on the estate. For many listeners the allegations were unconvincingly refuted by the authorities.

The IWCA's solution to the heroin dealing problem is straightforward. Arguing that the housing authorities, often knowingly, house dealers and anti-social elements on the estate, the IWCA says the sole responsibility for the removal of those elements lies squarely with the same housing authorities. Further, tenants pay rent to their landlord not just for bricks and mortar but also for a safe and decent environment in which to live. The landlords are not delivering. The IWCA intends to make them.

The housing authorities claim it is the tenants themselves who have the responsibility to stand up in court and testify against the dealers thereby penalising the tenants twice - once by enforcing dealers and associated anti-social elements on them and secondly by asking them to put themselves at risk by testifying in court.

The IWCA says that if evidence is required it is the authorities' responsibility to gather it. In all the cases that Blackbird Leys' IWCA have highlighted, the dealers are clearly in breach of their tenancy agreements on a daily basis. If the will existed, the authorities would have no trouble removing them.

As the only organisation willing to raise these issues, the IWCA has gained a lot of respect on Blackbird Leys. This respect, sometimes hard won, is very important to the building of a sound foundation from which future IWCA victories will spring.

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Reproduced from RA Bulletin Volume 4, Issue 12, July/Aug '01