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Posted on 12 February 2010 at 0:00 GMT

Cat and the fiddle: Waltham Forest Council's sorry tale

Waltham Forest's sorry tale of Fluffy the cat, a repressive regime and a council under suspicion

"Next thing you know they'll be prosecuting residents for sticking up 'missing cat' posters on lamp-posts", joked Sarah Sachs-Eldridge, secretary of Walthamstow Socialist Party, when Waltham Forest's enforcement officer initially challenged the party over the right to campaign in the local town square.

But a local cat owner was actually fined 75 as part of the council's 'zero tolerance' of 'environmental crime'! The council has since said the fine was an "error" but few in the borough believe this.

Three Socialist Party members have been threatened with a 500 fine for setting up a stall for two hours a week on a Saturday morning. The Environmental Crime enforcement officer's hand-delivered letters cited a 1906 by-law, despite the fact that Socialist Party members and others have been campaigning there for over 20 years. They have since claimed campaigners are liable to a 50-100 charge for setting up a stall.

This clampdown appears to coincide with the Socialist Party's launch of a petition for a public enquiry into the council following the Independent Panel Report. The IPR exposed Waltham Forest council's privatisation schemes as scams. The document describes the privatising of adult education services to EduAction as a "systemic failing in Waltham Forest in respect of procurement, contract management, contract evaluation, monitoring and stewardship".

At a recent meeting called by the Socialist Party and attended by over 50 local campaigners, Linda Taaffe, Walthamstow Socialist Party chair, said: "London now feels increasingly like San Paolo, with private enterprise dominating our public spaces. The authorities are behaving more like those in a Latin American dictatorship in a clampdown designed to sweep all opposition from the streets of the borough.

"This council is supposed to support us not suppress us. We will mobilise the full power of the trade union movement as well as all who stand for democratic rights."

Sarah added: "We all want a pleasant and clean environment but this campaign is being used to clamp down on democracy. And it is hypocrisy. In fact it is campaigners in the area who defend the environment - such as the Residents Against Pollution campaigners who fought off plans to build an incinerator in a residential area.

"The council has been exposed using council taxpayers' money to line the pockets of their friends in big business by selling off every council service they can. Yet when we went out to campaign for a public enquiry we were harassed. We will not stop until freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are defended, in this the borough, famous as the home of the great William Morris."

The meeting called for a mass protest at the next full council meeting on Thursday 25 February and for mass action to defend free speech and reclaim the square on Saturday 6 March.

Local MP Neil Gerard and some Labour councillors have pledged support to the campaigners.

The 'campaign2campaign' is supported by: Waltham Forest trade unionists; Waltham Forest Unison local government; Walthamstow Socialist Party; Leytonstone Socialist Party; Green Party; Waltham Forest Trades Council; Socialist Workers Party; Civic Society; Youth Fight for Jobs; Residents Against Pollution; Unite Against Fascism; Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition; Tamil Solidarity; Committee for a Workers' International; Youth Against Racism in Europe

ACTION:

Mass visit to the surgery of Councillor Afzal Akram, cabinet member for Community Safety, enforcement and protection at 10am Saturday 13 February followed by mass campaign stall in the town square.

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