Londoners demand homes

by New Worker correspondent

THOUSANDS of Londoners gathered last Saturday — half in Shoreditch east London and the other half at the Elephant and Castle in south London — in spite of freezing wind, rain and sleet to demand affordable homes for Londoners.

“Cap rents, not benefits!” “Social housing not social cleansing!” and “Housing is a human right!” were among the slogans shouted as local residents, trade unionists and a wide spectrum of campaigning groups marched carrying hundreds of colourful banners and placards.

The two marches met, with a loud cheer, at the south end of Tower Bridge and turned long Tooley Street a few yards to surround City Hall, the headquarters of the Greater London Assembly and Tory London Mayor Boris Johnson.

As the marchers approached the glass structure and the wind from the river added another dimension of cold to the air as it was filled with ever louder chanting of “Boris Out! Boris Out!”

Marchers hold Johnson responsible for the policy of allowing the vast council housing estates that once gave decent housing to London’s working class to be swept away to be replaced by new developments of luxury flats.

These flats are way beyond the reach of most London workers. Many are bought by wealthy foreigners purely as an investment. Housing costs in London are rising so fast they only have to buy a property, hold it empty for a few years to be able to resell it at double what they paid for it.

So while more and more Londoners are being forced on to the streets they are surrounded by new beautiful homes that are just standing empty. Those that are let command rents that are higher than many workers’ total pay packet.

As the marchers passed through the working class areas of east and south London — ethnically very diverse areas — the local residents of every colour, race and nationality waved and cheered from balconies and windows or stood in a line outside shops to clap and cheer in spite of the weather.

They were the same streets that have seen many housing campaigns, against landlordism, against evictions and for fair rents, waged by previous generations.

An estimated 5,000 encircled City Hall and urged Johnson tackle the rising housing crisis by building more council homes, controlling private rents and calling off the proposed demolition of properties on up to 70 London estates.

If Tory plans to reduce the total household benefit cap to £23,000 as promised large families would be forced to move away from London and the out of the south-east.

Leading the march as it crossed Tower Bridge in driving rain was Jasmin Stone, from Newham in east London.

The young single mother said skyrocketing rents and unscrupulous landlords had already forced a number of her friends from the capital they can no longer afford.

She said: “I’ve already lost quite a few of them; it’s extremely unfair that young people cannot afford to stay in the city they love and grew up in.”

The Focus E15 young mothers who are successfully fighting plans to force them out of London took pride of place on the march. Immediately after the march a group of young activists broke away and succeeded in occupying part of what is left of the giant Aylesbury Estate near the Elephant and Castle.

Houses on the Chartridge House block have been opened and were occupied overnight. The occupiers held an assembly on Sunday and asked for neighbours, squatters, and everyone who wants to, to join them. There are homes here for hundreds, lying empty because of the greed of developers and bribed politicians.

The Aylesbury Estate is one of the largest “social housing” complexes in Europe. It was built in the 1960s-70s with 2700 homes. Because it sits on prime inner London real estate, it is being socially cleansed of its working class inhabitants, in a saga that has gone on for over 15 years now.

Tenants have been evicted, often moved out miles from central London. A rash of ugly identikit yuppy blocks have been built on part of the site.

There was a big police presence at the start of the occupation yesterday, including a helicopter and photographers, but not TSG riot police. But after a few hours all the police left, saying that they were treating this as a legal protest and would not try to storm the building.