As the Tory-led Coalition continue to boast about the so-called “recovery”, a group of young mothers in London, under the name of Focus E15, is struggling with the local council to have something as basic as a house to raise their children. Beatrice Papapietro of the Southampton Marxists looks at the inspiring struggle of the Focus E15 mothers.
As the Tory-led Coalition continue to boast about the so-called “recovery”, a group of young mothers in London, under the name of Focus E15, is struggling with the local council to have something as basic as a house to raise their children.
The young mothers of Newham have been fighting for access to council housing for over a year and have recently ended their “political occupation” of one block of houses in the Carpenter Estate in Newham, East London. From this, they are building support for their cause, helped by celebrities such as Russell Brand; as a result their voices have gained a platform in the mass media. In the past few weeks, the main newspapers such as the Guardian, Independent and BBC radio have covered the protest.
Victims of the system
Their fight starts in 2013 when, as a group of 29 mothers housed in crowded and decrepit hostel, they received their eviction notice. The hostel is named Focus E15 and received £41,000 a year by the Newham Council in order to give a ‘temporary’ accommodation to mothers that were at risk of homelessness or already had been homeless for a period. Most of these mothers also had experience as victims of domestic violence and were fleeing their homes.
Despite the fact that Focus E15 was meant to be a temporary accommodation, many of the occupiers were housed there for years. As a result of the cuts programme imposed by the Con-Dem government, Newham Council cut the funding to the hostel, which served eviction notices to the residents. The women were then rehoused in mostly unsuitable accommodation and were told that they might be rehoused as far away as Birmingham, which would have cut them off from the necessary support of family and friends to care for the children. Some of the places where people have been rehoused in the past are black holes of unemployment and general deprivation. This move would take away any chance of an independent life for these women, entrenching them into poverty and dependency on welfare.
A political struggle
The inability of the local council to provide decent social services and housing is a reflection of the decrepit nature of the entire capitalist system, which cannot meet the basic needs of society. Concessions fought for and won by the working class in the past are taken away when capitalism goes into crisis, and the groups that pay for the crisis are always the most vulnerable and generally voiceless, such as young and poor mothers.
It is for this reason that the Focus E15 mothers decided to stage an occupation that they describe as “political”. Its political aims are those of highlighting the hypocrisy of the system and the politicians that defend it, denouncing the project of social cleansing that has been carried out in London in the past few years, especially in those areas that are predominantly working class and that have also have a tradition of working class struggle. For example, the women of East London were at the forefront of the working class fight to obtain the vote for women (and men) in the early 1900s, as well as being involved in strikes to better working conditions after WWI.
By breaking into the Carpenter Estate – which Newham Council has been depopulating since 2006 for its private development plans, despite the fact that there are 26,000 people on the housing waiting list – these women have exposed the lies of the council. Newham Council was saying that the flats were not fit for living, which the many pictures and videos on the Focus E15 mothers Facebook page and from other media shows to be totally false. The plan is to build luxury flats and then reserve a small percentage of the developments for ‘affordable’ homes at 80% of the market rates, which means that they are still unaffordable for most of the working class people and people in the borough who are reliant on housing benefit.
London: home to the rich
London is becoming one of the starkest examples of inequality in Europe. The Olympics have only accelerated the process of gentrification and social cleansing. A leaked document from the Newham Council in 2012 unveiled the Borough’s plan to deport 500 families to the town of Stoke-of-Trent, brutally uprooting them from their communities and social networks. The plan was to again sell the land to private developers. Stratford is being transformed from the working class area that it used to be to an area of consumerism and of luxury flats, ready to house the workers from the City in expensive flats. Meanwhile, local families are being forced out from their houses in the most brutal way, left in the streets to care for themselves.
The Focus E15 group shows how people are organising to fight this brutality. Most of these women, as well as the community around them, are experiencing a fast process of radicalisation and a corresponding growth of self-confidence. The fight against eviction has been radicalising large layers of the working class all over Europe and in the US, with various platforms against eviction being formed. Raising the question of collectivisation and socialisation in relation to issues that are generally seen as individual problems, such as homelessness or evictions, is leading to a radical transformation. People that have lived mainly quiet and passive lives are organising against the injustices of capitalism after seeing its brutality.
A reflection of a dying system
The issue of the crisis of housing is often taken in separation from the larger crisis of the economic system, which is the origin and root of the housing question. The anger of the Focus E15 mothers is mainly and rightly directed to the Labour-controlled council in Newham, which has totally ignored, if not actively and aggressively opposed, the group. The comment by one of the council calling the occupation a ‘petty, expensive stunt’ carried out by ‘agitators and hangers-on’ is an example of how far these politicians are from the reality of the majority of the people. Such political representatives are completely out-of-touch and unable to listen to or understand the daily issues faced by ordinary working people.
The militancy and anger thrown up by campaigns such as the Focus E15 mothers needs to be directed towards the organisation of the working class to overthrow capitalism – this is the task of the leaders of the labour movement, who should be putting forward a socialist programme as a solution to the housing crisis.
Fight to transform society!
The only way to solve this crisis in housing is with a rational plan in the economy, in which houses are used as homes, not as investments. With the main levers of the economy – such as the banks and the major construction firms – in the hands of society, rather than the hands of the bankers and the bosses, we could direct the necessary resources to the housing sector, also helping to eliminate unemployment as part of a mass programme of construction.
What is needed is the socialist transformation of society. Women have always been at the forefront of revolutionary movements. Focus E15 mums are standing up to this history, demanding justice and equality.