Since the last issue of ‘Hackney against the cuts’ in March our worst fears have been confirmed. Following the half-day strike on March 6th there has been no follow up action & nothing appears to be planned for the future. The leadership of the Joint Shop Stewards Committee have refused to try & increase the resistance against cuts in local services & have, once again, returned to their monthly discussion meetings with McCafferty at which they have no strategy to oppose what the Labour council is doing in Hackney, never mind the Tories at national level.
The resistance by workers at Marsh Hill Old People’s Home collapsed the day after the strike. Meanwhile the council refused to budge over Mentmore Industries for the disabled, it has forced through massive increases in nursery fees including charging unemployed parents £5 per child, it has used its highly paid & relatively new friendship with the police to attack squatters and there are now rumours that it intends to sell, or rather give away, a number of estates to housing associations.
This bulletin, which we hope can be a forum for discussion & activities by all those who are concerned about what is happening within Hackney includes articles on cuts in education, cuts in the voluntary sector, cuts in housing, attacks on squatters, the councils friendly relationship with the police, as well as a call by Councillor Tom Silverlock for the development of a new forum for the left, socialists/trade unionists/unemployed in Hackney.
We hope to be able to publish every 3 months (a minimum, we hope!) and articles, photographs, comments, letters are welcome. Send them to:- ‘Hackney Against the Cuts’, Box No 1, 136 Kingsland High Street, E8.
We hope to help unite all those who want to fight for a better Hackney through the involvement of the mass of workers, tenants, students, squatters and unemployed. Strike action must be a key to this and will need linking up with others across Britain. Lastly, thanks to everyone who helped produce this magazine & hopefully more will help next time!
The closure of Marsh Hill Old Peoples Home was part of the continuing destruction of Local Government Jobs and services.
WHICH WAY FORWARD?
A STATEMENT OF INTENT – BY COUNCILOR TOM SILVERLOCK
While it is true that there have been some fightbacks against cuts in the Council, and it is true that these were indeed heroic in their own way, they have not really ended the continual onslaught on local government services that has been and is taking place in Hackney by the local councillors, whether Labour or otherwise.
There is definitely a need for a new approach, a gathering of those forces that have proved themselves in the struggles that have taken place in the last few years, and a complete re-evaluation of the enemy, its scope and power. In my view the enemy has swelled its ranks over the last few years & consolidated its power.
Any fighting left that did exist within the local Labour Parties has effectively been destroyed & demoralised while there has been a resurgence of anarchistic politics on the left with its rhetoric & activity attracting active but desperate working class socialists who are becoming more estranged from the traditional left currents that existed in the Labour Party, Militant and the SWP. All these groups only help to make the left a murky uninviting mire that it is, confusing & dividing working class activists.
There is a need therefore to create some kind of forum that challenges the established left, that unites some of those anarchistic elements that have developed over the last few years & have a progressive orientation to the working class and their organisations, some Trotskyist elements that have proved their metal in the past and independents who cannot claim to be either.
The potential for such a forum to exist in Hackney is not only great but absolutely necessary & it is a Labour Councillor, a revolutionary Trotskyist & a working class socialist who has been involved in many campaigns & struggles in the last few years that I call for such a forum to develop in Hackney.
A statement of intention of such a forum will be completed in the near future which all activists must read and decide whether to participate or not. While those sectarians may not see the necessity of such a forum, it is that which makes them sectarian. The left must no longer be divided as we do not only have to contend with the Capitalist ruling class, and its state but also its agents whose ideals and method have infected the left and is festering like a cancerous growth.
Interested? Then contact Hackney Against the Cuts and we can begin the discussion.
CUTTING BACK ON EDUCATION
After numerous letters to staff and parents denying cuts, Hackney Education Directorate & Hackney Council finally admitted they had been planning to cut school teaching posts. Strike action on March 6th, together with much publicity, persuaded the Directorate to reconsider. They offered to:-
(a) Restore 30 TAAN’s (Teachers above authorised numbers) in secondary schools.
(b) Restore 44 curriculum & organisation posts in primary schools.
(c) Restore the school incentive allowances.
This was achieved at the expense of 20 curriculum support posts, advertising, and the heads & deputies discretionary pay rise.
Other cuts in the education budget are still in place. These include:-
- School meals rising 20 pence a day.
- Cuts in support staff.
- Up to 50% cuts in cleaning and maintenance. (services which are already at a minimal level.)
- A worsened TAF (the ratio of teachers to students) level to 1:30 in primary schools, 1:20.9 in secondary schools and 1:13.5 in the age group 16 to 19.
The worsening of TAF has meant a reduction of 60 teaching jobs & resulted in larger classes.
Schools in Hackney are at present receiving their staffing levels for next year based on rolls (student numbers) a year old. This means that schools with rising rolls will experience further increases in class size.
The prospects for delivering a quality education service in Hackney will be severely undermined if this situation continues. With local management of schools just around the corner, cuts & job losses are likely as has been seen in other parts of the country last year.
A fighting campaign across the education unions will be needed to restore these cuts & to prevent further attacks on jobs & the education service as a whole. Trade Union activists must organise and build for strike action to defend the education service while it is still worth defending.
A.French, NUT. (personal capacity.)
Cuts in the Further Education sector include over £1 million from the Hackney College budget, an imposition of a 18% staff vacancy rate (though there are no vacancies at the moment) & a vicious increase of fees for unemployed students on benefits, from £4.50 per annum & El per exam to £25 per annum, plus £5 for materials, and £20 for exams.
By a NALGO steward at Hackney College.
ROBBING THE POOR !!
Speaking on behalf of single parents in Hackney my reaction to the new £5 a week nursery fee for my child is one of despondency. I am very hard pressed to find this money out of my already inadequate income of £60.50 a week. However much I love my child, the bills must be paid & the stomach needs filling – this is already difficult enough.
I feel the additional stress of trying to creatively employ my bright & active child at home on top of the financial stress of life would be damaging to myself and my child. Children need other children & a structured safe, happy and nourishing environment, with facilities I could never hope to provide at home.
The child care facilities we have been fortunate enough to benefit from have saved me from a possible breakdown and my child from probable abuse. If these facilities are removed then I can only see:
1. Wasted Lives.
2. Deterioration in family relationships.
3. Increased child abuse.
4. Poor social skills in pre-school age kids
5. Diminished intellectual ability.
6. Failed cost efficiency due to a likely increase in demand for child guidance, social workers, care orders, court costs etc…
Need we further damage our already poor reputation for child care in Europe? This is a false economy and social myopia. Reverse the fee increases.
By a secretary of Community Nursery.
THE COUNCIL & THE COPS
One local ‘service’ which is not under attack from either central or local Government is the police. Why?
Through most of the 1980’s Hackney Labour Council played an important part in campaigning against police abuses of power in the borough, and for an accountable Metropolitan police force. In the 1990’s councillors are most definitely siding with the police against the people who elected them into office.
Hackney Council was the first London borough to set up a police committee in the Summer of 1982. Full support was given to the Roach Family Support Committee following Colin Roach’s death in January 1983. The Council went so far as to vote to refuse to pay the police precept in opposition to Colin’s death & the police’s attitude to the Colin Roach campaign. The council provided a substantial amount of money to help the Family & friends of the Trevor Monerville campaign get off the ground after Trevor had emergency brain surgery after being held in Stoke Newington police station in January 1987.
In general, the council took a firm &’principled position against police injustice & placed its resources firmly alongside the people of Hackney who suffered at the hands of the police. Their policy was best illustrated by their attempts to set up a democratically controlled police liaison committee & their refusal to participate in the stooge Hackney Police Community Consultative Group, one of the groups set up by the police across London as a public relations office.
Two events in the spring of 1988 pointed to a change in direction by the Labour council. In March, a non-eviction policy against squatters was reneged upon with mass eviction of over 100 squats on the Stamford Hill estate. 100 police officers were used by the council to back up the bailiffs. In April, deputy Labour Party leader, Roy Hattersley, visited Hackney to launch the council’s “A Charter for Better Policing.” At the time the Labour Party was trying to ‘mend’ its relations with the police after senior police officers had questioned whether the police could work with a Labour Government. Hattersley advised the council to stop knocking the police & participate in the consultative group. During the past 3 years Hackney Labour Party has slowly but surely drifted to the right. The radicalism associated with the GLC years has been replaced by the realpolitik of a Labour Party which has capitulated to Thatcherism.
If we look at the Labour Council’s present attitude to the police we find that it is determined by their need to use the police to control anti-poll tax demonstrations and protests against council policies. Their decision, made last October, to join the consultative group does not represent an attempt by the council to exert pressure on the police. The simple fact is that the council cannot criticise police injustice one day and expect them to turn out & support them the next.
Hackney Labour Council’s U-turn came in a year (1990) when Hackney Community Defence Association dealt with 69 cases of police injustice in the borough. Already in 1991 the police have attacked peaceful Turkish and Kurdish strikers and justified their actions with wild allegations about “anarchist agitators” and “mobs threatening to storm Stoke Newington police station”. The Labour council’s decisions to give their support to the police will contribute to the marginalisation of protest in the borough, and strengthens the police’s power immeasurably.
Graham Smith, Hackney Community Defence Association.
HOUSING: COUNCIL ATTACKS SQUATTERS AND HOMELESS
By getting people off the homeless waiting list to sign up tenancy agreements the council can legally evict squatters with no notice whatsoever by saying the flat is pre-allocated. By lowering the number of offers from 3 flats to 1 estate & without the right to view the flat beforehand the homeless are getting a raw deal. If the homeless person/family doesn’t except the offer they are chucked off the waiting list.
Hackney Council plan to evict over 3,000 people from all of it’s squatted properties by April 1992. Rather than challenging illegal occupants through the courts, as is normally the case, the council now serves PIO (protected intending occupiers) notices on squatters. This legislation is used as a safeguard against squatters moving into premises already allocated to someone else.
Housing officers were meant to be employed to escort families around estates but the council couldn’t fill the posts. Instead the council have sent homeless families, many with little knowledge of English, around estates on their own & some squatters have had families knocking on doors asking to look around! The contempt the council has for squatters & the homeless is obvious. Making the most vulnerable people deal with any possible aggravation is a deliberate attempt by the council to play 1 group of homeless off against another.
Council figures show that there are 3,200 empty properties in Hackney with 1,400 occupied by squatters & 1,800 empty. The councils priority in kicking out squatters whilst leaving hundreds of homes empty is designed to shift the blame for the scandal of empties from themselves onto the squatters; who are being blamed for ‘jumping the queue,’ taking other peoples homes & keeping flats empty!
The council aren’t even keeping to their own rules as it was stated in their own report that ‘squatters believed to be potentially in priority need will be asked to complete a special form in order to be assessed under the 1985 Housing Act.’ This hasn’t happened with families & people who fall under priority need being evicted, sometimes in dawn raids backed by police.
Only then do the council recognise them as homeless, putting them into bed & breakfast or temporary accomodation. There have been instances of licences being given to certain families but this is arbitrary & at the discretion of individual housing offices/officers, leaving the system open to abuse (nod & a wink, know what I mean!)
There is already opposition to the evictions from tenants & squatters on some estates & Hackney Squatters Aid is providing a council wide focus for action. It now appears that some council workers are also beginning to see the logic of our arguments as well because on the afternoon of April 26th squatters, supported by a some local trade unionists, were able to persuade UCATT members to down tools & refuse to carry out the clearing of flats previously occupied by squatters. The result was a motion passed by the Joint Shop Stewards Committee condemning the councils use of PIO’s & refusing to help with evictions until there’s a proper initiative to fill the emptys. This is the key to the fight as without the support of council workers – both white & blue collar – the councils plans would collapse.
With the council shoving the homeless into run down properties, without doing any repairs to bring them up to standard, the entire housing stock is being further run down. DLO workers should be doing what they do best, providing a decent repair service for tenants & bringing back empty properties to the housing pool, not employed as ‘furniture removals’, clearing flats of squatters property. This is a housing issue which affects all council workers & needs their urgent support to stop all evictions until all the emptys are filled.
Justyn, squatting with Kate & their 22 month child. Facing eviction.
A WASTE OF STAFF TIME
As a result of the Director of Housing (DOH) ‘squatters initiative’ report in February 1991 hundreds of housing staff hours are being spent allocating & evicting, without due regard to the council’s statutory responsibilities towards priority homeless.
In effect councillors have been deliberately misled by the DOH into believing the evictions would only involve those who aren’t priority homeless. Council officers are being asked to take part in this disgusting exercise, incensing squatters to such an extent that District Office 2 became the scene of an occupation & protest.
More evictions were due to take place on May 15th, & we still have no provision for assessing & advising potentially homeless people except for a few ‘volunteers’ from Housing Emergency Service (HES) on the day. This leaves the already overworked staff at 287 Mare Street with less resources to deal with the large numbers calling at HES.
Housing workers know that time would be better spent on bringing back into use those empty properties that aren’t squatted, & that funds from Central Government should be demanded for this purpose. Also the wrecking of unoccupied properties by the council to make them uninhabitable is an absolute disgrace when thousands are homeless….
Council officers are bound by policies & procedures agreed by elected Councillors, & the current practice of mass evictions goes against agreed policies. Councillors should make the DOH accountable for his actions & stop blaming the homeless for living in empty properties. Stop the evictions – homelessness isn’t a crime.
Written by a council housing worker.
UNITE, FIGHT & STRIKE
Last years 6 week occupation of Victorian Grove by staff, parents & local people showed that some workers are prepared to fight what is happening. These struggles must be developed & links must be made between workers in different unions & different boroughs in order to organise country wide industrial action against what is happeing to Local Government jobs and services.
PAY NO POLL TAX
In the financial year 93/4 we are going to be subjected to the new ‘Council Tax.’ What this actually is & what it will mean to people’s bills is shrouded in mystery. What it means for local government & services is much easier to see.
Under the tax bills will be calculated on the rebuilding costs of a property as determined by insurance companies. This will then be placed in 1 of 7 bands & a single bill issued to the head of the household; who will be responsible for collecting the money from the other occupiers. The bill assumes that 2 people live in the household; there will be a discount for single people.
There won’t be a poll tax register; the council will have to check on the number of occupiers by referring to the electoral register or rely on people offering the information. Some people currently on 80% rebates may be ruled exempt.
However the poll tax will remain for the next 2 years, meaning more big bills, reminders, summonses, court appearances, bailiffs & the threat of imprisonment. The recently announced sweeping £140 cut in bills is now known to be a dishonest bribe. Those who used to pay rates or were getting a rebate may not be get all the £140. Does anyone seriously believe that Wandsworth has a ‘minus’ poll tax – that they now give you 10 pence when you go swimming or walk across a park!
Continuous under-funding from the Tories has meant that councils have never had sufficient money to provide decent services. It could be argued that the poll tax has always been part of the Tories master plan to destroy local councils. Long-term under funding means that councils can’t afford to provide services. They are forced into a process of collecting money at a level that is unworkable. Hackney people simply don’t have £500 to pay the Poll Tax.
The fact that 16+ education is to be taken out of the hands of councils indicates that, if the trend continues, that councils will have less & less power in determining what is best for the locality.
Hackney council seems reluctant to realise the long-term implications of the poll tax. It seems happy to send bailiffs onto our streets & estates, at enormous expense, while tucked up in their offices making cuts across all aspects of local services & removing their very reason for existence. Hackney Council will go the way of the GLC & our local affairs will be under the complete control of Whitehall.
Gwen/Andrew of Victoria Anti-Poll Tax Union, personal capacity.
LET’S LINK UP AND FIGHT ALL CUTS
The latest & by no means final cuts have taken place within Hackney’s voluntary sector. Amongst the T&GWU organised projects 10 members were made redundant, making a mockery of the deputy council leader, Tommy Shepherd’s, statement that the cuts wouldn’t mean redundancies.
The TGWU/ACTSS branch aimed to fight the cuts by linking with the Town Hall unions in fighting all cuts in jobs & services, but there were problems. Firstly, most non union voluntary groups – & some unionised – played no part once they found they were not on the ‘hit list.’
Secondly, by campaigning around Mentmore Industries Marsh Hill, instead of against all cuts, many of those threatened by cuts didn’t forge links between each other. When the cuts in Mentmore & Marsh Hill were pushed through there was nothing in reserve to resist the attacks.
Thirdly, it was obvious that once strike action had been called for March 6th, many of the town hall unions didn’t put in the work needed to ensure that their members took action. Indeed without the teachers the turn out would have been pathetic. Since then there has been no effort to escalate the action or to form links with other threatened council workers. This attitude will cause more defeats.
Despite the Poll Tax’s demise the Tories have made it clear that attacks on councils will continue, whatever the system of local taxation. The same ‘street level’ resistance that developed against the Poll tax is needed to defend local government. To do this we will also have to fight many in the official union movement who did their best to ensure that the Poll Tax fight was kept off the union agendas.
As for the voluntary sector, it looks as if there will be major battles against cuts in the near future. The sector appears to be seen by the council as a soft option who hope that projects around the borough will feel isolated & that there will be no support for the sector from the town hall unions. That is why whilst we lost some of the battles this time it was important that we fought a high profile campaign against the cuts in our own sector & that we forged links with other unions.
The consequences of doing nothing is being seen with services & jobs being decimated in Haringey & Lambeth. We must break out of the ‘save our bit’ mentality & start having a broader outlook on how to defend local government, involving workers & users of the services. This could be expanded to link with other public services such as post, transport & health, with mass strike action being the ultimate aim.
John Lang, Hackney TGWU/ACTSS 1/477 branch secretary.
This organisation believes that the local services provided by Councils have reached a crisis point due to years of government cuts in revenue support, begun under the Callaghan Labour Government, continued as a central policy issue of the Tories, & capped by the Poll Tax. Standards of service have declined, staffing levels & wages of workers have been depressed, and complete closure of services are escalating rapidly.
Although central government is ultimately to blame for this state of affairs, local Labour Councils have chosen to wait for the dubious promise of restoration of lost finance from a future Labour Government. They have not fought the cuts, but have actively collaborated with the Tories to ensure some kind of say in what gets axed. Council union 14aders have played a similar role, refusing to wholeheartedly fight cuts for fear of losing a token say in how cuts are implemented.
The tactics used have been to divide & conquer – squatters against other homeless people, DLO workers against Library services, council workers against the community sector. We must unite to fight all cuts & recognise that those who have done the Tories dirty work – council leaders, Management & union bureaucrats – & protected themselves are the enemies of the workers, groups & service users who have borne the brunt of the cuts.
In affiliating to Hackney Against the Cuts, this organisation recognises that all areas face the same problems & agrees to sponsor a conference on the future of Local services which HATC is planning, along with a number of different organisations & union branches. We also agree to support HATC by taking copies of the bulletin to distribute/sell to all our members/users/affiliates.
We enclose affiliation/sponsorship fee of £ (£10 organisations under/£25 over 1000 members, additional donations always welcome.) to add to the £420 already raised by HATC.
We will take copies of the bulletin to sell.
Return to: Hackney Against the Cuts, Box Number 1, 136 Kingsland High Street, London E8. Telephone:- 081 533 5506 (Tom or Pam) or 071 254 4815. (Mark)