We need a winning strategy

THE CON-DEM government’s austerity sledgehammer has come with a mighty crash on all of us but hardest on the poorest and most vulnerable. Now we need a properly thought-out strategy to defeat it.

The poll tax was not defeated by petitions and marches and demonstrations alone. It was chiefly brought down by the sheer weight of numbers of people who were supposed to pay it but refused to co-operate. Some went all the way and ended up in jail on principle. Hundreds of thousands of others held out for many months before paying and the sheer weight of the administrative mess this caused — in local authorities and the courts — made in unenforceable.

We must engage hundreds of thousands of people in this struggle — against the bedroom tax and all the other benefit cuts. There must be so many appeals, queries and general refusal to cooperate that town halls — now desperately depleted of staff — will not be able to cope.

There are many sound reasons to appeal against a decision that you are deemed to have more bedrooms than you need. One is that as a tenant of a local authority or housing association you did not choose your own home but were allocated it. It was the landlord who decided it was suitable for you.

This fight must be supported by town hall and civil service unions refusing to work any extra time on the multiple backlogs.

Families hit by the bedroom tax must all make their own decisions according to their circumstances but generally speaking it will hasten the failure of the tax if they just carry on paying their old rent. Many are terrified of eviction but the legal eviction process takes a long time. Usually there have to be at least two court hearings where tenants can make their case to a magistrate or judge who may well be more sympathetic.

What people really need is good legal advice to give them the confidence to hold out as long as they can. But now that legal aid in most of these cases has been cut it is down to people like the Haldane Society, trade union lawyers and such like to produce masses of guidance sheets and pamphlets for people who want to stand up and challenge the cuts in the courts.

We need to recruit a new generation of McKenzie’s Friends — lay people who have been trained in the specifics of this particular aspect of the law who will go into court as supportive friends and speak for those threatened with eviction. The various campaigning groups against the cuts and the unions could get busy here.

With queries, delays, appeals and so on many eviction cases could be set to last a good deal longer than this government. Miliband must promise to undo these extra taxes on the poor and disabled.

And the fight in the workplace must be stepped up. One-day strikes by civil servants and teachers show a great fighting spirit in those unions. But alone they are not enough. They do not particularly impact on the ruling class.

We need serious, long-term strikes by fuel delivery workers, transport workers, rail signal workers, dock workers, airport workers, mainstream media workers, taxi drivers, civil workers in the police and justice system and rank-and file bank workers. The ruling class will notice when these people come out, especially when they do it together and for a long time. Unions must bulk up their long-term strike support funds. There is no more important use for union funds, especially now. When workers see a real fight going on they will respond — as the hundreds of thousands of people who collected to support the miners’ strike did.