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Opposing the Bedroom Tax in Leeds
Iain Dalton, Leeds Socialist Party and Hands off our Homes activist
A revolt has been brewing on the estates of Leeds. Across the city, Hands off our Homes has been organising community meetings in opposition to the bedroom tax and meeting hundreds of people who are prepared to stand up to this brutal attack.
Around 8,000 are affected in the city, a large number of them single people whom the council had a policy of placing into two-bedroom tower block flats which would have otherwise been empty.
Yet there are very few single bedroom properties which these people are supposed to move to, only around 50 in the whole city which are available.
From Armley, to Little London, Middleton, Chapeltown and elsewhere meetings have attracted 30-50 attendees, with each one finding people keen to begin organising more widely in their community against this attack.
The campaign has the backing of Leeds TUC, GMB and Unison branches at the council, Unite Community and other trade unions locally.
In Armley, in a series of activities over recent weeks campaigners have found a warm response on the streets with wide swathes of people opposed to the bedroom tax and wanting to show their opposition.
From single parents who will have nowhere for their children to stay, to couples who sleep apart due to health problems, to the woman who five days after her relative she cared for died received a letter telling her she was now over-occupying.
The stories are endless, but so is the determination of those who won't leave their houses to be crammed into whatever the mansion-owning Tory ministers deem fit.
Enough is enough
Not only is the bedroom tax hitting those on miserly benefits, but the cuts to council tax benefit mean a double-whammy.
People just simply cannot afford to pay. They are already wearing extra jumpers as they can't afford to turn the heating on.
Now they are refusing to starve themselves for the sake of this tax to help pay off the deficit from the bankers' bailout and are announcing that they won't pay.
Hands Off Our Homes is organising advice on rights, which is increasingly important as one local housing association has sent letters made out to look like new contracts stating that 'paying all rent due is priority' and implying that if tenants don't agree and sign they face losing their homes.
Whilst the main goal we are working towards at present is a city-wide demonstration on 20 April, last Saturday saw another demonstration called officially by a few local Labour councillors and 'Labour Left'.
Yet apart from making sure they stood at the front of the protest when the press took photos, they gave no lead, they didn't even address the protest.
This was left to Hands off our Homes campaigners, who promoted the demo on the 20th and called on the council not to implement the bedroom tax.
At present the council hasn't even gone as far as councils in Dundee, Islington, Brighton and Hove and several more who have made some limited pledges to try to avoid evictions for bedroom tax arrears.
Our petition calling on the council not to evict tenants, to refuse to implement the bedroom tax and to instead embark on a serious council house building programme that could provide accommodation for all those who need it (around 27,000 people are on the council house waiting list in Leeds) was hugely popular, with people queuing at times to sign it.
This certainly wasn't a demonstration in support of Labour's crocodile tears whilst doing the Tories' dirty work.
The argument that the council should swallow the cost of the bedroom tax was widely accepted, especially when the £70 million-plus the council holds in reserves was pointed out, and the huge costs that pursuing people who can't pay would run up for the council.
Council accepts crumbs
Of course, the council leadership is hardly going to encourage the non-payment of this 'tax'; after all, if it can swallow the cost of this attack, then why does it have to inflict all the other cuts in Leeds? Why can't it mobilise people to fight for the money needed to provide the jobs and services the city needs, not just what crumbs Cameron and Osborne want to let us keep?
If it refuses then Hands off our Homes should stand in the next elections for the councillors' positions or back other anti-cuts candidates across the city, as happened in a number of wards last year.
Prior to the bedroom tax, the Socialist Party (standing as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition) won over 5% of the vote in Armley.
This could be more this year with the increased anger against the cuts and a further discredited Labour Party after local councillor Alison Lowe stated at a Hands off our Homes public meeting that 'evictions will be necessary'.
It points to the argument of Socialist Party members, that ordinary working people have no political voice.
We need a new mass workers' party, not just to fight the cuts but to argue for a society for the needs of the millions, not the profits of the millionaires.
One that could, for example, nationalise the banks under democratic control to fund the social housing that is desperately needed to solve the housing crisis, while also providing much needed jobs.
It is those sorts of measures to bring about a socialist society that can offer a way out of crisis-ridden capitalism.
Join the Leeds Hands off our Homes anti-Bedroom Tax demo on April 20th. Assemble 12pm, Victoria Gardens (outside the Art Gallery), Leeds
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 2 April 2013 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.