Walthamstow: occupy to save the town square
Stop the private monster block – for a local referendum
Nancy Taaffe, Waltham Forest Socialist Party
Residents and workers in Walthamstow, east London, are preparing to occupy their town square against a ‘monster block’ phoney regeneration scheme.
So Walthamstow’s ‘Save Our Square’ (SOS) campaign has got off to a roaring start after coming back in the new year. The organising committee has agreed to meet every week in the run-up to our planned occupation on Saturday 24 February.
The Labour council plans to tear down 81 trees and move the kids’ playground, cutting open space by a third, to throw up private towers full of expensive homes.
We’ve got a programme of activity that includes leafleting tube stations, asking local businesses to display window posters, leafleting sixth form colleges – and leafleting McDonald’s. As virtually all our youth clubs have closed, McDonald’s is one of the few places where lots of young people now socialise after school.
We hope to make the occupation of the square the property of every young person in our borough, encouraging them to get involved in the struggle for a place of their own.
Over 10,000 leaflets have been dropped off at various pick-up points across the borough – at our last audit they were going fast. A silent army of volunteers has quietly picked them up and delivered them to thousands of homes across the borough. So much so we’ll probably have to print more.
There’s a million suggestions as to what we should do on the actual day itself, from encouraging a mass play-about with children skipping in the square, to musicians playing and community choirs singing.
Campaigners connected to homeless charities are discussing ways to get housing workers and those in housing need to come along on the day, and raise their voices in opposition to privatising public space and treating the homeless like an eyesore like in Windsor.
We decided to appeal to those displaced from our borough, to places like Luton and Welwyn Garden City, to come back for the day. We will appeal to working class Londoners forced out by this social cleansing model to come and rage against what has happened to them.
They should demand the right of return. Not just for the day, but forever if they wish.
Many young women with children have been forced away from their networks by councils like Waltham Forest, to live in overcrowded and inadequate housing. We intend to make a generalised appeal to these people to return on 24 February and protest against social cleansing.
It’s good that Blairite London mayor Sadiq Khan has made a u-turn over residents’ ballots. After feeling the pressure, he’s reversed his opposition to Jeremy Corbyn’s call at Labour conference last year for residents to have a vote on ‘regeneration’ schemes.
But long before this, Walthamstow SOS had decided to submit a petition for a community ballot on the proposed ‘regeneration’ of the town square. There is a deep-seated suspicion that local ‘consultations’ are skewed to suit the developers and are not democratic at all.
We’ve produced a petition which calls on the Labour council to honour Corbyn’s pledge and run a local referendum on this issue. We would have to collect 4,000 signatures just to force the council to debate holding a referendum – and that’s only if they decide to recognise the petition.
On 26 January, after submitting our petition, we found out an unelected senior officer, the head of governance and law, had arbitrarily decided the council won’t accept it. Not the referendum, not the debate on holding a referendum – just the petition calling for a referendum!
In the light of this anti-democratic rejection, the campaign will discuss how we pressurise councillors to ensure a petition for a local referendum is allowed. A disproportionate amount of power is wielded by unaccountable bureaucrats independently of what is going on outside.
Of course, on 7 February we also went across to Haringey to celebrate their victory in defeating the ‘HDV’ housing privatisation scheme, hoping some of their fairy dust rubs off on us in Waltham Forest.
But we know the real fairy dust is a combination of mass campaigning, welded to a political intransigence that defends the very idea of council housing being provided by democratically elected councils – it just has to be fought for.
- Occupy Walthamstow Town Square, 1pm, 24 February