Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/249/24777
Birmingham tenants' victory
We Can Beat Privatisation
ONE OF the wheels of New Labour's privatisation bandwagon came off when tenants of Britain's largest landlord, Birmingham City Council, voted by a 2:1 majority to reject plans to sell off council housing to a group of private landlords.
This was a major political defeat for Tony Blair and the right wing council leaders.
The council tried every trick in the book to coerce tenants into voting for privatisation.
Despite spending millions of pounds on propaganda, showing seductive pictures of new bathrooms and double glazing on buses, plastering the city and their own vehicles with posters urging people to vote, making a video with failed soccer manager Ron Atkinson - which was widely regarded as a joke by people who bothered to watch it - and flyposting litter bins (something we'd be prosecuted for!) Birmingham tenants still voted against privatisation.
Although the council's high pressure campaign to get people to vote 'Yes' undoubtedly wound people up it was the experience of privatisation that was the main factor in the resounding 'No' vote. 61,500 people voted in a high turnout of 65.5%.
The anti-privatisation campaign took on a David and Goliath dimension because of the council's massive advantage in terms of money and personnel. UNISON, Defend Council Housing, the Socialist Party and others had to make do with cheaply produced leaflets advertising public meetings and word of mouth.
Anti-privatisation campaigners demolished the council's business case and painstakingly warned tenants of high rents and less secure tenancies. We explained what had happened on estates already privatised in Birmingham and elsewhere.
The scale of this victory shouldn't be underestimated and shows us that a determined campaign with the facts can beat a well-oiled and slick PR machine.
The council are already criticising Birmingham tenants for making their choice by saying that they may have to wait 30 years for their housing repairs!
The Socialist Party did not campaign against privatisation so that tenants could live for evermore in sub-standard housing. We believe that housing should be improved and will now demand that the government write off the council's housing debt and allow the money currently spent on debt repayments to be spent on renovation and building new houses.
With their privatisation plans now in tatters, if councillors won't pressurise the Blair government for properly funded public services then they should stand aside for socialists who will.
This victory should give confidence to all those fighting New Labour's privatisation mania.
Vote for Socialist Party candidates in the local elections on 2 May
- A Socialist council would launch a programme of mass council house building alongside a programme refurbishing existing stock.
- If it was necessary to spend more than the 25% of funds that the government has released, we would be prepared to defy New Labour an spend more in order to provide good quality, affordable, democratically controlled public housing.
In The Socialist 12 April 2002: