Community Resistance, RA Vol 4, Issue 7, June/July '00


THE IWCA is slowly gaining a solid reputation for setting the political agenda in the areas where it is most active. No moreso is this in evidence than in Islington, North London, where earlier this year the local branch chalked-up its first major victory. The following is a report of recent activity in the area:

Just before xmas the Lib Dems won what had been a safe Labour seat in a council by-election, giving them control of the council. This was the first time Labour had lost Islington since 1968.

Immediately Labour settled into opposition mode, condemning the Lib Dems’ proposals to sell-off council housing. The IWCA was happy to point out their hypocrisy. In a letter to the Highbury & Islington Express an IWCA spokesperson challenged four leading Labour Party members, who had been the most vociferous on the issue, to state where they stood in relation to their party’s national policy, described by The Guardian as planning to “hive-off all council housing within 10 years”. They were also asked, “whether they can continue to stay in a party which is, as former Tory housing minister David Curry put it, ensuring ‘the triumph of Tory policies’”. The subsequent silence was deafening.

This coincided with the distribution of 8,000 copies of the Spring edition of the Islington Independent for the Finsbury and Clerkenwell area. The response to the newsletter was almost instant. Two weeks to the day of the first newsletter going out, the leader of the council, Lib Dem councillor Steve Hitchens, announced a new policy of allocating up to 100 flats a year to the sons and daughters of council tenants. This was obviously in direct response to the IWCA’s highlighting of the housing crisis and it’s call for “a comprehensive building programme of affordable housing, with special provision for the borough’s young people, to hold our communities together”. Soon after the chief reporter on the Gazette telephoned the IWCA for information on a follow-up article he was doing.

The best was yet to come. The IWCA had been active on the issue of mobile phone masts, distributing leaflets on the estates affected, sending-out information packs and raising the issue in the press. On April 13th the front page headline of the Gazette announced a “Ban on Phone Masts” with the council caving into pressure. The following week a delighted IWCA spokesperson told the Gazette that “While the Lib Dems will no doubt claim that this decision reflects their willingness, unlike the previous administration, to listen to the concerns of tenants, we believe it shows that even politicians and town hall mandarins are susceptible to pressure when confronted by effective campaigning by ordinary people”.

Recently the IWCA has been to the forefront of the battle with the council and the private company ITNet, who have taken over the housing benefits service with disastrous consequences. ITNet, who are being paid £24 million by Islington council, are responsible for thousands receiving eviction notices, with many tenants being dragged before the courts and at least one person evicted, all because ITNet had not paid them the benefits they are entitled to. A full-page article in the Islington Gazette featured IWCA members leafleting a benefit office with a newsletter designed to act as a campaigning tool, while also providing practical information on how to claim compensation. Both the Gazette and Express carried the IWCA phone number which has led to the IWCA taking on a number of individual items of casework as well as sending out numerous newsletters. The newsletter has also been distributed to over 170 tenant groups across the borough and won particular praise from the chair of the Pensioners Forum.

Speaking in the Express an IWCA spokesperson announced the setting up of a campaigning and support group called Whose Benefit? “The group is to concentrate on three main areas; providing legal advice, counselling and assistance for those seeking compensation; campaigning and lobbying to ensure that the issue is kept in the public eye and to being about independent public enquiries in both boroughs (ITNet has also caused chaos in neighbouring Hackney Borough) with the aim of holding those directly responsible account­able for their actions and ensuring that justice is seen to be done for the countless victims”.

The profile of the IWCA continues to grow in Islington as it develops a sharp campaigning edge.


IWCA MEMBERS in Glasgow are fighting to ensure that New Labour’s plans to ‘socially cleanse’ the traditional working class commu­nity of the Gorbals are defeated:

The IWCA was recently involved, as part of GAS (Gorbals Against the Sell-offs) in the collection of a questionnaire on privatisation carried out in conjunction with GWCAHST (Glasgow Wide Campaign Against Housing Stock Transfer). As usual the SWP were conspicuous by their absence on this kind of activity.

The IWCA attended the GWCAHST confer­ence, which had a poor turnout  of 20-25 people, due mainly to the publicity being restricted to ‘lefty circles’. Of particular interest though, was a big shift towards grass-roots community campaigning with the Gorbals flagged-up as a successful model and the attendance of MSP, Tommy Sheridan.

Following the conference the IWCA distrib­uted 3,000 leaflets in the Gorbals area regarding not just the proposed sell-offs but also wider community issues. The leaflet pointed out that “the Labour government have talked, but not listened to, what the working class has been saying. They expect a successful yes vote which goes against all public polls currently carried out. Their advertising for jobs within the proposed Housing Association is a sure indication of how they perceive the vote will go. With this position, they are shown to be both removed and against the working class who they misrepresent”.

A number of calls were received on the back of this activity from local people, including one from an activist already involved in work who wanted to discuss the ‘bigger picture’. There was also calls from those active within GWCAHST who were worried about the left’s desire to overrun the campaign and encouraged the IWCA to become more directly involved.

IWCA representatives attended the next steering group meeting of GWCAHST, where the IWCA’s proposal to initiate days of action in various housing estates was accepted, with those present urging a plan of action to be put together within the next two weeks. The SWP, who were thin on the ground, had their proposal for a demonstration unanimously voted down.

The desire for community action seems to becoming firmly established amongst the serious activists. Now talk is of organising a number of social events, especially for the kids, to further encourage the involvement of the local community. A sure sign of GAS’s successful impact on the community has been the attack on the Chair of the campaign in the media by Labour MSP Frank McAveety.

Reproduced from RA Bulletin Volume 4, Issue 7, June/July '00