Anger rises as Brixton people fight for their homes

by New Worker correspondent

POLICE used tear gas to stem an invasion of the huge police station in Brixton last Saturday as protesters tried to storm it in a massive demonstration of local anger at the “gentrification” of Brixton that is forcing working class people out of the area.

About two hours before, thousands of people, mainly local residents, had gathered in Windrush Square in Brixton, south London, last Saturday in protest at rising housing costs that are forcing working class people out of the area and breaking up long-established and unique communities.

They are especially angry at the local authority, Labour-controlled Lambeth, for demolishing council estates and closing down housing co-operatives in order to luxury accommodation that local people cannot afford.

Feeder marches from local housing estates converged on Windrush Square from different directions — all loud and colourful and with a rich ethnic mix.

For a while the feeling was like a festival or carnival with dozens of home-made banners, balloons, music, multiple food stalls and good humour, hundreds of children running about and smiling police officers.

But the anger and desperation of the people there was also apparent as speaker after speaker told of being forced out of their homes by rising rents or the council’s grand plans to “gentrify” the area.

The council has signed a contract with the estate agents Foxton’s to manage their housing stock for them. Foxton’s sees this as a bonanza for increasing profits by selling the whole lot for redevelopment to profit-hungry investors from around the world.

Local traders are also suffering from soaring rents. Local shops that for decades have sold Afro food at low prices are being forced out and replaced by fine food restaurants selling food that only the wealthy moving into the area can afford.

Street markets are going the same way leaving the local ethnic communities unable to buy the food they want — or anything at all — at prices they can afford.

The area is vibrant and lively with genuine mutually supportive communities. But it also has very good transport links to central London and has turned into the latest fashionable spot for development and investment.

Residents fear the council and the incomers are trying to get rid of them and no one is sure they will be able to live there much longer.

Those forced out will be offered new housing if they are elderly, disabled, vulnerable or have small children — but that could mean moving to Manchester or somewhere else hundreds of miles away, where there are few chances of finding employment.

If they are considered to be able-bodied they are left to fend for themselves and that could easily mean ending up sleeping on the pavement.

Local communities are fighting back. They are already organising regular protests to prevent evictions and have seen off bailiffs a number of times.

After a couple of hours protesters in the square organised themselves for an impromptu march around the area led by a group known as Black Revs (Black Revolutionaries).

They attacked the local office of Foxton’s. They visited many threatened sites like the shops under the railway arches that Network Rail wants to close. And they ended up at the police station.

One witness told the New Worker: “Some of us gathered at the entrance; the police then began pushing out the young protesters and they tried to push themselves in.

“The automatic doors were bending under the struggle then they lowered the shutter which got busted, so they tear gassed everyone. Even people waiting at the bus stop around the corner were overcome by fumes.”

Hopefully Saturday’s events will have sent a message to the council, to the mayor of London and to the eager development companies that the local people of Brixton are fighting back and they will not lie back and let their lives be torn apart to feed the greed of the one per cent.

That community is now busy planning a lot more responses and will defend itself fiercely.