Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Outlawing squatting yet another attack on our civil liberties!"

The government u-turn, climbdown or whatever you prefer to call it, even kicked upstairs and out of sight, will still see far ranging changes made to our criminal justice system; it will take away access to legal aid, which is said to include family law, employment and immigration, debt and housing, education and welfare benefits and what I wish to draw attention to, squatting and squatters - they will be barred from legally resisting eviction in the courts.

The other day I had to go to my local council housing office, which I have to say regrettably and in-itself, was a bit of an ordeal, as I had and still have, an ongoing problem in-regard to getting in and out of my council block, basically the council changed the locks and gave me a key that doesn't work, in fact its the wrong key altogether and I have spent hours in their offices trying to resolve this simple problem but to no avail. Anyway that is not my point. So whilst patently waiting to be seen I could not help overhearing some of the conversations that people were having with the council staff, one in particular was so striking; a homeless man asking the council for help with his housing situation and needs, this man’s dilemma which truth be told is sheared with countless thousands here in London, was that he needed quite simply a home. The visible and the hidden homeless are indeed a very large sprawling and staggering geographical community, and there are no accurate numbers or figures available only those that are held by local authority housing departments of the people marooned and hanging onto the ever lengthening waiting lists, with little or no sight of an offer forthcoming. I don’t know how they operate the allocation of housing stock in other areas, but here in Newham the council run a lottery type of setup, which depending on a points system and counting on how many you have, you then bid for the vacant stock. This would have not been an option for the poor chap in the housing office that day, as I hared the staff member tell him that his only hope was to go private, and of course, I knew that this advise was easily given but in the hard realty of life here in East London, such accommodation is drying up, as indeed It has been for sometime due to property development and those dreaded Olympics.

So what other avenues are there to put a roof over your head then, will I can’t really think of any if you are without substantial resources and funds; there is the hostel system which to be honest is not that much better what with many waiting to be accepted on their waiting lists, and of course they don’t accommodate couples or even families for that matter. 

Street sleeping or rough sleeping, and, which it has to be said is throughout the capital rising, which of course becomes more and more viable, and the expectations are that this will go through the roof anytime soon.

Now whenever I write or think about homelessness, then inevitably I always think of that quote from the bible in which Jesus said: 

“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”  

I began this post by saying that those who take to squatting would in the future be barred from any legal representation, well in fact it is my understanding that it will be much worse than that - the government intend to make all forms of squatting illegal. This undoubtedly would really close all the options for anyone seeking to find an independent resolution to a housing problem, albeit of a temporary nature.

I think that we should first view any attempt to change or further criminalise squatting as an advance upon the already erosion of our civil liberties, and therefore it goes without saying, and should be resisted in all practicable and possible forms. Now it is all very well and too easy for me to sit here and articulate what needs to be done when I am not homeless or even am I a squatter, but I have been both in the past’. However, this is not or should it be about qualification, its about our civil liberties under renewed attack by the representatives and owning property classes, and we are not talking about someone who works all their lives to buy their home then retire from this slavery, or a life spent in tiresome drudgery" before they can really enjoy it, then only for a few years if they are lucky. 

Squatting in this country has a history that runs along side that of the Labour and the trade union movement, it was one of the big events in the peasants’ revolt. the original form of land tenure, and truly squatting has such a long and proud history on this island. Everyone knows about the Diggers (agrarian communists), in the 17th century, or they should do. What's often forgotten about the middle of the 17th century is that there weren't only civil wars, these were years of grate biting (famine) shortages . A lot of Diggers were actually the very people who kicked up most during the English revolution. A few of the diggers, those that we know about, had been quite comfortably off and had been made poor by the wars. 

Squatting has never gone away in this country. There was a lot of squatting in the 19th century, mostly quite individualistic. We tend to hear about squatting after it becomes organized and when it becomes not so much individualistic but at least when some people doing it have a political perspective on what they're doing.

There was a squatting movement after the First World War, but the big one was in 1946. There was a squatting movement in 1945, which was quite viciously repressed by the Churchill government. They called themselves the Vigilante movement. I think the idea was they were vigilantly scouring the streets for empty houses and making sure they were occupied by homeless people. The 1945 Vigilante movement started in Brighton and the people involved were anarchists, which probably made them more of an immediate target compared with the 1946 Camp Squatters that was to come. Then when that huge one did kick off in 1946 it was still going in the 1950's. There was all sorts of places squatted, all the army camps and RAF stations that were now empty after the war. People just moved in and took them over, as well as many other places.

Just after the war three big spectacular squats were organised: Duchess of Bedford Mansions near Regents Park, and 2 hotels in Bloomsbury that had all been accommodation for offices during the war. Well, the Dorchester Bedford Mansions were going to get rented out to the rich. Rich people rented flats in those days for 30 shillings per week (that's 1 pound 50p), which was huge rent which working-class people couldn't afford. All three squats received huge publicity at the time. There was a big rally in Trafalgar Square in support of the squatters. The police surrounded these squatted places, people chucking food up to the windows, most of it not getting caught. But it was all over in a few days, when they arrested so-called ringleaders, but that wasn't the end of the movement.

To be continued... 


Chris H said...

Fascinating bit of history there, and a portent of things to come.

The rich would do well to understand that they themselves are squatters on the land they have taken. It will be taken back from them one day.

Anonymous said...

One of the great injustices of capitalism is that is supports the rights of property owners to profit from rents (even, as in the case of squatting, when they are not gaining any rent) over the right of people to live and have food and shelter. The system would have someone die of hyperthermia rather than squat for a night and would have someone die of starvation rather than take a sandwich from a supermarket without paying.

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