Community Resistance, RA Vol 4, Issue 2, Aug/Sept '99

East London, Hackney
Major Surgery

THE IWCA has now established itself as a force in Hackney. We have done this by making links with local tenants groups, intervening in debates in the local paper and distributing 10,000 copies of our first newsletter - the Hackney Independent.

As was reported in the February/March edition of Red Action we got started by supporting tenants in one area who are opposing the Canalside developers. Hackney Council 's plan is to move the tenants out, knock their estates down and replace at least half of the homes with private housing (the other half with housing association homes on higher rents and less secure tenancies). Already IWCA members have been involved and gained in their understanding of working class politics through leafleting, supporting lobbies called by the Tenants Association (TA) and crucially, canvassing door-to-door. Some of our members had never canvassed before, yet not one of us was questioned as to why an 'outside ' organisation was canvassing on behalf of the TA - because the TA had already paid their dues through tireless campaigning. Three letters from the IWCA have been published in the Hackney Gazette in recent months. They set out the IWCA 's opposition to the attitude of Hackney 's councillors generally, and the fact that 20 of them have swapped parties in the last three years, "The fact is it doesn 't matter which party a councillor represents, they are all middle class parties competing over the middle class agenda. That 's why the arguments between councillors in the Gazette are about parking, Council management and traffic routes; while they remain silent on issues they agree on like estate sell-offs... Community groups who are prepared to put up candidates in by-elections [should] achieve direct representation of working class interests on Hackney Council."

Commenting on Hackney Council winning a PR award the IWCA said... "How ironic that the council should win an award for a propaganda video aimed at off-loading its responsibilities onto the private sector. This from a council that lies fourth from bottom in the national table of cases of maladministration upheld by the ombudsman. Instead of producing fancy videos of how someone else can do a job of providing decent housing for its tenants, Hackney should direct its resources into giving residents what they want - decent housing and decent services instead of being abandoned to short-term, profit-seeking private landlords."

Most recently the IWCA contrasted two stories covered in the Gazette in the same week, "Peabody Options are building yuppie flats in Sheperdess Walk - which are not 'an option ' for you unless you earn more than £30,000 a year. Meanwhile, the council is pushing through cuts to the well-used and popular Lion Boys ' Club in Hoxton. And now the New Deal Trust plan to make things worse by selling off council housing in Shoreditch. It 's not a new deal Shoreditch is getting - it 's a raw deal."

Under the headline "Raw Deal for Shoreditch", 10,000 copies of the Hackney Independent have been distributed: "City investors and new landlords are queuing up to get their hands on Shoreditch and South Hackney. Because we are so close to the City we are a cheap, attractive target for property investors only too willing to bid for the housing stock Hackney Council can 't wait to get rid of". (Specific plans to defend the Lions Boys Club are currently being discussed.)

Turning to the £50 million the government has announced it is contributing to the New Deal, Hackney Independent stated, "This sounds like a lot, but by the time they pay their consultants and put up new lamp posts and railings there will be very little left. Hackney 's councillors, officers and the housing associations plan to use the New Deal to make a permanent change to Shoreditch. They want to change the profile of the population from it being a working class area to a middle class playground - with canal-side flats within easy reach of the City and all the yuppie bars and restaurants. People in Shoreditch need to face facts. Hackney Council have run down the estates for years. An army of consultants and glossy brochures promoting the idea of privatising your home will soon hit you. The run down estates make a new private landlord seem like a good idea. However, the new homes are not for you - even if they allow you back, you won't be able to afford the new rents. This can and must be resisted".

An invitation to TA 's and community groups to contribute ideas, and discuss what 's happening in the area has led to an ongoing contact with three separate TA 's and as the IWCA profile increases the numbers will grow. Hackney IWCA now has two specific aims - to help organise opposition around the New Deal and to establish a surgery in Shoreditch. As well as taking up people 's problems with the council the surgery will also double as a base of operations. A lot of personal effort will be required from IWCA members - but if it wants to establish itself in the long-term as a serious organisation there is no alternative.

Reproduced from RA Vol 4, Issue 2, Aug/Sept '99