Walthamstow: Building the campaign against clearances of the working class
Sarah Sachs-Eldridge, Waltham Forest Socialist Party
Where are Jeremy Corbyn’s representatives in Waltham Forest’s Labour council? That is what campaigners will be asking – especially after they saw council leader Clare Coghill write to George Osborne’s Evening Standard to tell the Labour leadership to butt out of a local battle over her latest hated regeneration plans!
This forms a pattern, with the attack by right-wing Labour council leaders on Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour NEC for intervening in Haringey sent to the Sunday Times.
This battle is reflected everywhere working class and young people are forced to fight back. The instinct is to appeal to John McDonnell and Jeremy for support and often it is the Labour right who are conducting the attacks.
The Labour-dominated council in Waltham Forest, east London, has approved a plan to hand public land in the town square over to private developers. The plan will deliver 500 flats – but none will be affordable to the families and young people in housing need in the borough.
The plan also includes a reduction in the number of trees, replacing the children’s play area with one that is smaller and nearer to the bus station fumes, and no new services.
Coghill’s statement followed the Evening Standard’s report of a trades council meeting where John McDonnell spoke.
Chair of Walthamstow Save Our Square and Socialist Party member Nancy Taaffe appealed to John for support. He replied: “My message on all these [regeneration schemes] is listen to local people, take on board what they are saying and try and take people with you, and if you can’t convince them, think again whether it’s the appropriate scheme.”
According to the Standard, Coghill said Mr McDonnell should focus on winning Tory marginals rather than “querying” the work of Waltham Forest council.
But demanding that Labour councils show in practice the difference John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership could make is exactly what is needed to convince more people to vote Labour and to build the movement to get the Tories out.
Against local residents’ interests
This scheme in Waltham Forest may not include the actual destruction of council homes like Haringey council’s HDV does, but is part of the same anti-working class pro-developer approach of the Labour right wing who dominate London’s councils.
That is because they have chosen not to build homes for social rent, to hand over public land for private profiteering and, instead of standing up and fighting the Tories’ decimation of the local government grant, to aim for a borough where more residents pay higher council tax and rates.
In other words this is social cleansing, London clearances of the working class – unless we stop it.
A campaign is fighting back and the Socialist Party has thrown itself into helping to build the most effective campaign possible.
After 3-400 attended the council’s planning meeting in December, 150 attended a trades council-hosted campaign launch and since then there have been weekly open organising meetings to organise, and discuss and debate the campaign.
We are using every tool in the box to fight. In January a campaign activist moved an amendment to an anti-development motion at a Labour Party branch calling for a referendum on it, as per Jeremy Corbyn’s call at Labour Party conference.
The strength of opposition is already clear. The council had received 948 letters of objection and 79 in favour and 2,015 people have already signed a petition against it.
We have attempted to use the council’s petition mechanism whereby if we get 4,000 signatures in favour of the call for the council to run a referendum we at least get a debate in the council chamber on the issue.
But an unelected council officer on £110,000 a year has ruled this out. We have written to Sadiq Khan and requested that he use his power to intervene and block the plan.
When Sadiq visited the borough on Saturday, the campaign went to appeal to him. We welcome that under the pressure of the movements in London he has done a u-turn on his opposition to Jeremy’s correct proposals on referendums.
The main public event is an occupation protest of the town square on 24 February. Leaflet depots have been established at friendly cafes and pubs and a silent army of campaigners has distributed over 15,000 ads for the event already.
We have discussed speakers who will help draw together an idea of how the campaign can go forward.
May 2018 local elections
But the timing of this campaign gives us one particular advantage. In normal times we could protest, petition and organise our little hearts out and the councillors would attempt to ignore us.
But 68 days after the occupation is the local elections when the Labour councillors who have supported this will ask for re-election.
Indicating how much they fear the odium attached to this plan the two Labour members of the planning committee who are up for re-election in May sent substitutes to the planning committee meeting.
But unfortunately, unlike our neighbours in Haringey where a groundswell of opposition to that Labour council’s HDV plan emboldened the left inside Labour to organise a surgical strike of deselections against the pro-private developer councillors, we have the very same proponents standing for re-election who have been carrying out all the anti-working class policies.
Ultimately a victory for the campaign will mean the council retreating. That is our aim. How we can make it happen is the question.
At the latest organising meeting the Socialist Party proposed that the Labour members in the campaign ask election candidates to show both in words and action which side they are on – by pledging to reverse the decision and pushing for an emergency council meeting to reverse the decision. This was agreed by majority vote.
The meeting also agreed to deliver a letter to Stella Creasy, Walthamstow’s anti-Corbyn Labour MP, appealing for her to intervene on the council’s plans, which she has so far studiously failed to do.
If you are in London please do come along on the 24th. We have ambitious plans for an event that defends the use of ‘our land and your land’ as a site of political debate and for fun too! Let’s unite against social cleansing and fight the forces of austerity.
The Observer/Guardian carried an article on 18th February in which Nancy Taaffe is quoted: London’s Labour leaders in new row over Walthamstow regeneration plans.
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 19 February 2018 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.