NEW LABOUR, like all the establishment parties, is planning to decimate the public sector after the general election. New Labour, however, is trying to sugar the pill of future cuts with a few announcements in a manifesto Building Britain's Future.
Most of the promises are not new. However, Brown has promised some extra 'affordable' housing. This will be welcomed by the close to five million people who are now on public housing waiting lists.
Unfortunately, only a tiny percentage of them are likely to receive housing. A mere 20,000 extra homes are to be built, of which only 3,000 will be council housing. Much of the rest will be part-rent/part-buy which is too expensive for the majority of those on the housing waiting lists. Compare this to what was done from 1949-54 when an average of 230,000 council houses were built each year.
More recently, during 1983-1987 just one Labour council, in Liverpool, in which Militant (the predecessor to the Socialist Party) played a leading role, built twice as many council houses as the government now proposes to build nationally. For house-building and other similar 'crimes', Liverpool councillors were witch-hunted from the Labour Party (see centre pages).
Pro-'free market' New Labour, far from putting money into council housing, has for twelve years continued the Tories' policies of taking it out. Over 30 years almost £70 billion of money from rents and right-to-buy sales has been taken by central government, leaving the remnants of council housing run down and dilapidated.
Inevitably, in a situation of dire housing need, tensions exist about who does, and who does not, get council housing. This is particularly acute in areas where there has been an increase in the population, including increased immigration. Tensions are not necessarily on racial lines, but often between more longstanding and newer communities.
New Labour is hoping to undercut these tensions, and the far-right BNP, by arguing that 'local connections' should be given more weight in deciding who gets housed. Socialists agree that 'local connections' are one important factor in allocating housing.
But given New Labour's complete failure to provide housing for the vast majority of those in housing need, Brown's statement will exacerbate, not undermine, tensions that exist in the same way that his declaration that New Labour would provide 'British Jobs for British Workers' gave fuel to the BNP.
The Socialist Party believes that the right of families to be housed in the same community is an important one. The struggle to achieve it has to be linked to both the fight for a mass council house-building programme and for an open, democratic allocation system, which would be accepted by most workers.
Decisions should be taken on the basis of need, including the right to be housed near relatives and friends, not by council officials, but by elected representatives of local community organisations, including tenants' associations and organisations representing minorities, councillors, trade unions and other community campaigns.
The fight for decent publicly-owned housing will be one of the many aspects of the struggle to defend the public sector against the relentless attacks of the capitalist parties in the coming months and years.
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