Housing victory for York University Student Socialist Society

On 24 October, the University of York Student Socialist Society celebrated a significant referendum victory after months of campaigning on the quality and price of housing in York.

Starting the campaign in February with petitions calling for improvements on a wide range of housing issues effecting students in York, the society decided to focus on the issue that struck a chord with the majority of students: the establishment of a not-for-profit letting agency run by York University Students’ Union (YUSU) in an attempt to break the power that private agencies have over the off-campus student housing market in York.

Over the course of three terms members of the Socialist Society spoke to thousands of supportive students and gathered over 800 signatures from students who were enthused and inspired by the ideas we put forward.

The committee of the society underwent dialogue with full-time staff and sabbatical officers within YUSU about the proposals, who gave solid support for the idea before the motion went to referendum in October.

Referendum week

yusureferedum-yesThe allotted week of referendum campaigning was also incredibly successful. Hundreds of posters, thousands of leaflets as well as other campaign literature were given to students across the week and support from various societies and clubs on campus was offered, with one publication even creating a special issue for us backing our ideas.

However, the popularity of the campaign is best demonstrated by the fact that no official ‘No’ campaign against the motion was launched!

In the end, the victory was a landslide, with 1,086 students voting in favour of the proposals to 117 against.

Not only did this motion have the highest turnout of the five proposed in that round of votes, but it was also the widest margin of victory, and the most ‘Yes’ votes polled on any issue by far.

This demonstrates that campaigns on issues that students care about create real enthusiasm and gather real support if societies focus on them.

Possibilities

The implications of this victory could be massive for students and even long-term residents in the York area.

A not-for-profit letting agency could reduce the price of rented houses under its control, but also create a competitive environment that causes both other agencies and university accommodation services to lower their prices, as rising university rents discourage returning students to live on campus beyond their first year.

This is not the end of the campaign, however. Megan Ollerhead, chair of the society, says:

“Obviously we’re thrilled with the result, but the work isn’t over yet – in fact this victory merely paves the way for us to effect further change.

“We’re looking at a number of different directions to pursue in order to build on the momentum of the campaign, for instance looking at working with York council on creating a mandatory accreditation scheme for landlords, to address some of the worst housing conditions in the city; but also, to tackle the issue of on-campus rent, which is set to sky-rocket following a proposal to demolish some cheaper university accommodation and replace it with a £400 million PFI project.

“I hope the gains we’ve made encourage other societies to look into achieving something like this on their campuses, as it could be potentially seismic for the student housing market on a national level”.

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Young and Angry

“We are just a shafted generation, and we are going to have to fight”. Young people are becoming increasingly frustrated with the state of play in the current situation. Readily associating politicians as liars, representatives of the rich or simply inept, this growing discontent and anger is not manifesting itself in a coherent organised fight-back, or any kind of mass fight back just yet.

Many young people who have left higher education, with degrees in specialities or not have gone into jobs which they feel they could have got straight from school, if graduates manage to find employment at all. Underemployment appears to be a prominent characteristic of this crisis in the recent period. This is one of the factors that has seen the youth unemployment figure remain stagnant at around the million mark.

In Scotland for instance, 92,000 full time jobs have disappeared since 2008 a STUC study found (Scottish Trades Union Congress). The study also found that more than 250,000 people want to work longer hours in order to simply get by. Those ages between ages 16-34 represented more than half the increase in private sector underemployment, highlighting that this is a particular issue affecting the youth. Across the UK the Labour Force Survey asked workers if they would like to work longer hours on their basic rate. In the third quarter of 2012 11% of workers expressed a desire to do so, compared with 7% in the pre-recession period. In total, this study estimates that there is around 40 million hours every week of desired, but unsatisfied labour.

The independent cites that “the ability to supply hours at the current wage is constrained by the level of demand in the economy, because there simply isn’t enough work around “. This is partly correct, there is a lack of demand as a result of the economic crisis, but to proclaim that there is not enough work around is completely false and deliberately misleading.

You only have to look at the workfare scheme for job seekers. Where they are asked to work for around 20-30 hours a week for dole payments, this is an attack on all workers’ rights as employers are encouraged to hire people through workfare rather than pay someone a full time wage. Less than 3.6% of claimants were found to have found a job in 6 months, the government target was only a meagre 5.5%. The very fact that the government’s target is so low exposes this scheme for what is really is, a new type of slave labour designed to drive everyone’s wages down.

Actions taken by young people, young workers and campaigning groups like Youth Fight for Jobs have meant that companies have become increasingly aware of the opposition to the schemes and the huge unpopularity of them amongst wider sections of society. TK Maxx, Sainsbury’s, Waterstones, Marie Curie and 99p Stores are a few amongst many companies which have climbed down and no longer operate within the workfare scheme. There are still companies which do partake within the schemes however, such as Tesco and Pound land.

The scheme faced a setback when a court ruling made it law to reveal to the public the names of the companies taking part. The DWP (department for Work and Pensions claimed that any participating organisation would be seriously financially damaged if the information was made public. This ruling is a result of pressure from below and shows the huge unpopularity of workfare.

The prospects for another wave of protests against workfare are definitely there. The experiences of these court rulings will mean that young workers will draw the conclusion that to comprehensively defeat workfare more action is needed, linking up with the trade unions to prevent the race to the bottom for all.

The fight in the workplace for young people is not limited just to workfare, zero hour contracts are becoming a typical feature amongst the workforce at the minute, providing ultimate flexibility for the employers, such as Sports Direct, where 90% of its workers are on a zero hour contract. These contracts offer no security what so ever to workers however, living pay check to pay check with the insecurity of not knowing if you will get a wage one week to the next. Many workers on these contracts receive no holiday pay or sick pay.

On Saturday the 3rd of August Sports Direct on Oxford Street in London saw around 50 protesters outside the store, campaigning against the contracts and for decent pay and working conditions while supporting workers. Similar actions should be organised across the country in order to bring attention to the scandal that is zero hour contracts and to aim to organised workers to fight for better conditions and pay.

If young people are not being forced into workfare schemes, on zero hour contracts they are volunteering or on internships.

Many internships are unpaid, typically being employed within the “white collar” or “professional” careers, such as journalism, business or medical chemistry as examples. Internships are defended as a way for graduates to build up experience before gaining employment. According to the BBC average student debts could reach £53,000 for UK students. With young graduates being saddled with debt, and then being asked to work for “experience” (free), it should be exposed for what it really is, a modern day form of slavery in a bid to undermine wages by the bosses.

The National Association of colleges and employers in America found that only 37% of unpaid interns got a job offer once completing their internship (study involved 9,200 people). This shows a glimpse of the broader problems with internships, this is not a trend unique to the United States however, In Westminster for instance there is 18,000 hours worked every week by unpaid interns.

An NUJ (National Union of Journalism) survey found that many believed unpaid internships were essential to the running of workplaces. It is clear however that internships are a way to exploit skilled graduates. Effectively professions such as journalism, amongst others are becoming closed off to many but the privileged and wealthy. With working class young people being pushed to find employment where possible in order to get by, as opposed to working for free.

Unpaid internships should be scrapped with anyone working receiving a fair age while preventing the undercutting of other workers. Interns and young people training in the professions should seek involvement within the union movement as a first step. The Institute of Public Policy Research suggests that unions should take up “test cases” of exploited interns at employment tribunals. Unions must and have to go further than this. Unite and BECTU are already taking such action as examples.

With all the strains being put on young people in terms of employment, training and education it would seem that less and less would wish to go to university. University applications have actually increased by 2.3% this April compared to last year. This however is still down on figures from 2010-11. With tuition fees tripling as a further step to the complete privatisation of student loans, which would result in ever increasing interest rates. There is urgent need for mass action from students and educational professionals alike, the NUS (National Union of Students) should be leading this; however where local Student Unions fail to call action students should be prepared to circumvent this.

The victory of UEL (University of East London) students in their campaign “Scrap the Unfair Attendance Policy” shows that students can and will fight, but most importantly, that we can win. The unfair attendance policy saw students subject to automatic module de-registration if they were more than ten minutes late on more than two occasions.

Across the globe a staggering 73.4 million young people are unemployed (2013), an increase of 3.5 million from 2007-13. Across Europe youth unemployment is at endemic levels. Greece having the highest rate at 62.5% (Feb, 13), Spain (56.4%), Portugal (42.5%) and Italy (40.5%), young people are clearly being disproportionately affected by the economic crisis and this is exactly why young people have been at the forefront of the struggle worldwide against austerity. In the student movement in the UK and against Workfare, the “Indignados” in Spain and the student strikes across Quebec to name just a few examples.

For the first time in some time in a long time young people will have a lower standard of living than their parents as the gains won after the Second World War are being taken away. This can have a dangerous effect on young people; this is shown by the fact that one in ten young people now suffer with mental health issues. The tragic story of Vicky Harrison has only served as a reminder of this dangerous situation, a 21 year old job seeker with three A-levels and ten GCSE’s was turned down for 200 job applications.

Whilst this is a very volatile and dangerous situation for young people this situation is much more dangerous prospect for the Con-Dems, Labour, all representatives of the ruling classes and capitalism itself. A generation of ferocious class fighters will be created, that will not be prepared to accept such misery and destitution thrust upon them and will join the fight for a socialist society.

York Socialist Party

N.B- Originally produced as a lead off piece, aimed at raising discussion and debate.

Posted in Sick of Your Boss, Solidarity, Strikes, Trade Unions, USDAW, Workfare, Youth, Youth Fight for Jobs | Leave a comment

Keep The East Coast Line Public

The joint rail union; Action for Rail, held protests at 11 East Coast Mainline stations against government plans to re-privatise the route. On the 1st of August, Yorkshire day. The York branch of the Socialist party protested alongside, TSSA union (Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association), green party and other comrades at York station to support the campaign. By the end of this year East Coast Mainline will have generated over £800 million for the Treasury, public profit that will not be reinvested into the network.  The government have set out its plans in the Rail Command Paper which shows that private companies will stand to gain where workers and service users will loose out.

                          “They want the industry to find huge cost savings, and have made clear that these savings must come at the expense of passengers and railway workers, not the private train operators. In fact, private operators are to be rewarded with longer franchises and greater freedom.”   (Action for Rail)

The publically run Settle to Carlisle line has shown that public ownership can work and is in the best interests of the people. We hope that The East Coast Mainline can also continue to provide services in this way, and will campaign alongside and support the unions and service users to ensure that the sell off does not happen.

Caroline Pearson
York Socialist Party

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Yet more thoughts on NUS National Conference 2013

Megan, Chair of the University of York Student Socialist Society, was one of the delegates to attend the NUS Conference 2013 from the University – not to mention the only-out-and-out Socialist from York, which is nice. By way of thanks for the support the Society offered her and to cope with the stresses (see below), writing this article was a way to thank the former, and deal with the latter:

Another, slightly different perspective on the events of this year’s NUS National Conference for your delectation. Read on…

As you will know from the other blogs that have made it in ahead of mine, a couple of weeks ago the NUS staged its national annual conference in Sheffield, and I was fortunate enough to be elected as one of your delegates to go and represent what you, the student body, felt the NUS should and shouldn’t be doing as regards its policy this year. I hope very much I managed, and anyone who has any questions after this about which way I voted, I am available via a number of social networking sites, or just in a pub. Any pub. With a cider.

I am going to talk about some of the motions, because not all of them have been covered, and whilst I won’t go through every single motion and amendment (they can all be found here) , there are things that need to be said. Firstly, there were a good amount of victories. There really were. Plenty of positive steps on housing – for instance in motion 603, developing an evidence base on the state of student housing and moves towards regulating letting agencies (if you’re interested, a certain left-wing politics society on campus is currently doing good work in this area, ahem). York wasn’t without its own victories, either, for instance our proposal to push for a much-needed fourth loan installment for health sciences students. I would refer you to the blog written by the lovely Bob Hughes for more detailed information on the good things that came out of this conference, as there were plenty.

However, unsurprisingly, a lot happened over the three days that not only do I find personally disagreeable, but actively detrimental. Firstly, an amendment to motion 502, specifically amendment B, which proposed correctly that gains to the movement are often made through mass student activity – general meetings, demonstrations and occupations etc. – and therefore the NUS ought to be mandated to support such actions as a useful and successful way of affecting change. I’m sorry to report that this amendment was narrowly voted down. The speaker against this amendment condemned mass student activity as ‘lazy activism’, which is a complete insult. Too often, mass activity is a last resort, fallen back on by student bodies who have tried everything they can but still feel they haven’t been heard, and are sick to death of being messed about and taken advantage of, often sacrificed for profit. There is nothing lazy about organizing hundreds or thousands of people into simultaneous action for a cause. There is nothing lazy about potentially risking arrest for attempting to make your voice heard, peacefully, and without malice. It is, however, downright disgusting to fail to support the members of your union in mass action, when mass action has recently so clearly been a sign that the presence and weight of a union like the NUS is needed more than ever.

Secondly, amendment 602c, the ‘battle plan’ to revive EMA; an issue close to my heart, as the Socialist Society here campaigned hard for its re-instatement over the last two terms and spoke on it in the York Council Chambers at their budget debate. Whilst I voted for in favour of this motion (no surprise), this was voted down, again narrowly, and quite upsettingly. EMA offered an awful lot of hope to those who struggled with stuff like making up their bus fare for the week, and massively improved things for a lot of college students who couldn’t have seen friends or had any kind of quality of life without it. I received it, and it is very unlikely I’d be writing this blog now if I hadn’t. It’s unfair to suggest that nobody should be allowed to have it because a small handful of receivers were able to exploit the system, the most common argument presented against its re-introduction. It is a noxious argument, routinely used against benefit claimants, and only enhances the sickening scrounger/striver rhetoric permeating much of modern mainstream politics. Of course EMA wasn’t perfect, but it was something, and those speaking against the amendment generally had nothing more concrete or workable to offer. As a choice between improving something or throwing it away and gambling on having nothing, conference floor voted for nothing.

It was the same story with motion 701 for internal union gender-balancing. The juiciest motion at conference, certainly the one which sparked the most debate, also got narrowly voted down, which I think came as a bit of a shock to many of the delegates on the floor at the time, but in hindsight ought not to have done. I won’t outline what it proposed, as it’s in the document, but though it split our delegation, I voted in favour. Now I’m not the biggest fan of quotas. Often people forget that they’re just the means to a wider end. But those who encouraged the floor to vote ‘No’ to 701 often fell back on the same, tired, sexist arguments. “Forcing women to stand might lower the quality of the delegates we send”. “The best people always stand for the job, and the best people will always win so it’s fair as it is”. It was as though structural inequality and internalized misogyny no longer exist, even though the fact that these demeaning and untruthful arguments are still being hauled out in 2013 indicates that, in the world of politics at least, those things continue to thrive. Whilst not being without its problems, it was a positive, progressive and concrete proposal, far more than those on the ‘No’ side had assembled, and it was, as with EMA, either that step or nothing at all. This result, to the only woman at this university to stand for a delegate position this year, is greatly disappointing.

Also, while I’m here, I am going to take the opportunity to comment on ‘the Margaret Thatcher thing’. The news of her death broke while conference was in session, and some delegates took it upon themselves to publicly celebrate it, causing a reasonably prominent backlash. As a serious, committed Lefty, it may surprise some of you to learn that I didn’t rejoice in Margaret Thatcher’s death whatsoever. Whilst her family and those close to her are understandably grieving, and should be allowed to do so in private and uninterrupted, I find it naïve to herald her death as the end of something significant, as politically, her death means nothing at all. Thatcherism is alive and well at the heart of a lot of mainstream political action, and if those who claimed to be glad that she was dead as they’d always hated her anyway were actually actively trying to undo some of her frankly toxic legacy, we might get somewhere. Going out and buying ‘Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead’ – an incredibly gendered and questionable action which, tempting though it may be, cannot be pinned solely on those on the Left, seeing as it got to number 2 in the national charts – goes no way whatsoever to making any kind of difference to the families and communities which were ravaged by her government.

In conclusion, then, it felt to me like Conference 2013 was characterised in many ways by an unwillingness to commit to anything concrete, voting out many imperfect but workable and beneficial ideas in favour of waiting for something better to come along, but offering no solutions themselves. As a result, this report has been a bit doom and gloom, but that need not be the case. I want to leave you on a high, seeing as you’ve made it this far, it’s only fair. The narrowness of the votes I’ve talked about shows that this standpoint was by no means unanimous, and many of the delegates this year seemed to find this trend increasingly frustrating – a level of frustration which was partly verbalized by one Sam Gaus, of Inanimate Carbon Rod fame. Gaus ultimately removed himself from the presidential race, as of course his campaign was never serious, but not before delivering a speech which accurately, and very wittily, debunked the current state of the student movement, with its over-reliance on surveys and research, anodyne buzzwords and its failure to support real action. While I’m quite wary of anti-politicians, who stand against everything and yet offer nothing, Gaus called attention to a lot of the rot the NUS has exacted upon its students in recent years, such as the Demo 2012 route, or the Alfie Meadows incident, claiming that ‘the Inanimate Carbon Rod will not care more about broken windows than broken skulls’. The applause his speech received was jaw-dropping. They had to turn off his microphone in the end. Gaus effectively voiced a lot of the real, exasperated anger felt by people like me, who joined the movement to make a proper difference to the lives of students and have felt themselves thwarted by meaningless legislation, biased bureaucracy and often flagrant careerism. Regrettably, the policies or the organization to commit to the point he made didn’t subsequently emerge, but the fight is still there. Some at conference were saying the student movement was dead. It isn’t. It’s got a dodgy ticker, and it’s rattling with blood-thinning pills, but there’s life in the old dog yet, I reckon.

So there it is. Get in touch if you want to know more. Sorry for waffling. Peace. X

(P.S.: Sam Gaus is now on the NUS Democratic Procedures Committee. Make of that what you will.)

Megan (original)

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York NHS Regional Demonstration – 6th April 2013

Saturday the 6th of April saw a regional demonstration against NHS “reforms” and cuts assemble outside the York Minster at 12 noon. The march was organised by Keep Our NHS Public in York and across the region.

The demonstration attracted trade unionists and anti-cuts campaigners and anyone concerned about the government attacks on the NHS from across the region, with around 500 people attending as well as the PCS (Public Civil Servants union) marching band from Manchester. Members from the Unite branch who have recently been de-recognised by Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust for opposing proposed cuts of £46 million over the next five years completed a one day strike on the 02/04/2013. [http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/campaign/NHS/16449]

Unite is also disputing a controversial proposal by the trust to introduce emergency care assistants (ECAs) to work alongside more highly-trained paramedics who go through a 2 year degree training programme.

This will clearly affect both patient safety and the terms and conditions of existing paramedics. Unite is calling for more training for the ECAs, so they have the proper skill set to tackle the more demanding tasks now being asked of them. Unite members were clear that they had no choice but to take strike action as the Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust had de-recognised them and that this would be a long fight.

Socialist Party members were present at the start of the demonstration with many people signing our petition against the cuts and privatisation going on in the NHS while engaging in discussion with union members and supporters about how we together can take this struggle forward to defend the NHS. It was clear from before the march set off that marchers were in determined spirits.

York NHS March 6th April

As the march was moving through the town it got the attention and support of passers by and shoppers. With many people stopping and applauding with more were joining the march. The PCS band from Manchester had “Drumming up support” emblazoned on the back of their shirts. And they certainly did that, making the march a truly lively affair. So much so that a busking band joined in, the drummer complimenting the passing PCS band and guitarists joining in while the singer chanted “NHS NHS!”

This sort of support shows the enormous groundswell of positive opinion the NHS has amongst working and middle class people, whilst also showing the potential for a huge fight between the government, and all those that support these “reforms” and the general population over the wholesale privatisation of the NHS.

The march ended with a rally at St Sampson’s square, where a series of speakers addressed the marchers. Including a former director of health for a NHS trust, doctors and the leader of the Labour council in York, James Alexander, it must be pointed out that the labour council is carrying out vicious cuts across the city, and is a party that nationally proclaims that cuts are necessary.

Dave Byrom, and NHS worker involved in the Mid-Yorkshire NHS dispute between management and administrative and clerical staff also spoke from the platform. Dave pointed out the success of the dispute, that consistent action, including strike action, saw management climb down from implementing down-banding which would have seen a pay-cut of between £2,500-£3,000 for staff. See full details of dispute here- [http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/16082]

The marchers greeted this with warm applause. Dave pointed out however that united industrial action is the only way to stop the attacks on the NHS, calling on unionists to pressure their unions and the TUC to organise a 24hr general strike as the next stage in the fight against the cuts.

The correctness of the strategy is shown by the victory of the Mid-Yorkshire NHS workers which is further vindicated by the fact that during the course of the dispute Unison health in the region recruited 200 new members throughout the course of this dispute.

Ben

The Socialist Party call for;

  • Axe the Health and Social Care Act. For a publicly funded service, free at the point of use, to provide for everyone’s health needs
  • End big business profiteering from the NHS! Scrap the costly Private Finance Initiative (PFI) schemes.
  • Take all health services and buildings back from big business and place them under public ownership. Publicly fund and integrate them with the rest of the NHS
  • Nationalise the pharmaceutical and medical supply industries and private health providers, with compensation only on the basis of proven need. Bring them under working class control and management
  • Abolish Foundation Trusts. For democratic control of local health services including by elected health workers and community representatives
  • End NHS job losses and low pay
  • For a massive trade union-led struggle to defend the NHS, including a national Saturday demonstration as soon as possible and strike action
  • For a new mass workers’ party to fight for the NHS and against cuts and privatisation.
  • For socialist policies and a democratic planned economy to end poverty, bad housing, unemployment, pollution and inequality – the biggest killers and causes of ill-health.

York NHS March 6th April

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PCS Budget Day Strike – 20th March

PCS has used the ConDem’s budget statement, issued 20th March as the launch-pad for escalating action against pay cuts, jobs losses and austerity. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said; “This is not a one-day protest, this is the start of a rolling programme of walkouts and disruptive action to put pressure on a government that is refusing to talk to us”.1

PCS has been at the forefront of the Union fightback against the Government cuts and austerity. We were more than happy to use the opportunity to turn up at PCS pickets around York and present solidarity from the Socialist Party as well as using the opportunity to speak to workers taking strike action in York.

We visited DWP pickets outside the two job centres in York. The pickets were visible and lively despite the early hour and the support for the strike reporting was really solid – 79% at the Stonebow job centre and nearly as strong at the Monkgate job centre – 76%.

PCS DWP staff are being hit really hard at the moment with cuts and job losses hitting themselves personally and to boot they’ve also got to be the people explaining to claimants what the new benefits changes will mean DWP recently had to issue a new set of guidelines to it’s staff instructing them how to deal with claimants who ‘threaten’ DWP staff with suicide.2

We also visited HMRC staff, approximately 10 staff were picketing outside their offices and they’d also said that the strike was solid, with an estimated two-thirds staying away from work. When asked about reasons for going on strike PCS members were adamant that “Britain needs a pay-rise”3 why should the fat-cats get fatter while the poor get poorer and more desperate. HMRC staff are n the best position to point to the £100’s of billions of lost revenue through tax evasion and avoidance4. Because of PCS’s continual raising of the demand for tax justice, as well as the work of organisations such as UK Uncut the sphere of debate has shifted, slightly – there is still a long way to go, though! Until a government (let’s be honest the chances of Tory, Labour or Liberals doing this are incredibly slim!) trys to reign in the massive levels of tax lost to big businesses and wealthy individuals then PCS wll continue to put pressure on the government and try to shift public perceptions.

Like the HMRC staff DWP staff in PCS are those who have to see in their day-to-day work the terrible, wrecking affect that austerity is having on claimants and communities as a whole. PCS’s campaign is a campaign not just to protect it’s own members but to be at the fore of the struggles against austerity and in reality this strike action is for the country as a whole. People don’t go into Public Service to enrich themselves and the PCS strike shows that they don’t go on strike simply to enrich themselves either. This is a strike for the majority not the rich minority, in essence, it is for the 99%.

Working people, trade unionists and community campaigners should organise to support the PCS action at whatever level is possible. There is a reason that the government singled out PCS for an attack on facility time, like Thatcher with the National Union of Mineworkers. The ConDem’s clearly believe that if they can make an example of PCS then the whole working class and anti-cuts movement will be set back considerably. Let’s make them regret this miscalculation!

The next PCS day of action will be 5th of April, the day before the beginning of the tax year.

Solidarity!

Sources:

1: http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/news_and_events/pcs_comment/index.cfm/id/A7752FFC-C6F9-48CC-B5FE52C79B003531
2: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/may/08/jobcentre-staff-guidelines-suicide-threats
3: http://pcs.org.uk/en/news_and_events/news_centre/index.cfm/id/5E952460-5E11-4C8B-8049A74DF8EA756F
4: http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/campaigns/national-campaigns/tax-justice/index.cfm
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Fight the “Bedroom Tax”- Protest 16/03/2013

On April the 1st, one of the Tory-led Coalition’s most regressive policies will be implemented across the country. The so-called ‘Bedroom Tax’ (alongside many other reductions in benefits) will affect millions of people across the country living in council or housing association homes.

Tenants on housing benefits who are considered to be ‘under-occupying’ their homes will lose 14% of their housing benefit if they are deemed to have one spare room, 25% if they are deemed to have two. While to the outside observer this may seem like an innocuous and almost intuitive way to cut welfare spending and the deficit, you don’t have to look far to see all the problems of this policy.

To begin, the way in which the Government defines under-occupation is problematic. Two children under the age of ten (regardless of their gender) will be expected to share a room. When parents are separated and do not live together, only one parent will be able to designate a room for their child; the divorced father who lives alone in a two-bedroom council house will be forced to either move out or lose 14% of his housing benefit. People with various disabilities who may require an extra bedroom may or may not have that taken from them depending on Government definitions of what does and does not constitute a spare room: part time carers of the disabled will not be able to claim a spare bedroom while full time ones will. Men and women who live in the same house but are not in sexual relationships will be considered to be under-occupying their property if they do not share a bedroom. These are just a few examples of how the “bedroom tax” will affect people”.

More than this, the policy is totally unworkable. Put simply, there are not enough one and two bedroom council houses in York (or across the rest of the country) to accommodate all those who are currently defined as under-occupying. There is estimated to be around 2,000 people in and around York who are affected by the tax. People who cannot find new houses to move into will be forced to pay up, pushing those most vulnerable in our society into endless spirals of debt from which they will almost certainly never recover. 
David Cameron has four different homes, three of which are paid for by the taxpayer; Conservative Peer and welfare Minister David Freud owns an 8 bedroom mansion, as well as a £1.9million London home. This is a policy being implemented by those who could never understand what it is like to live in near poverty, constantly teetering on the edge of debt, often living dependant on an overdraft. This is an outright attack on the material conditions of the working class, unconvincingly hidden behind a media culture of blaming benefit claimants for all the ills of a corrupt society and it’s failing economy.

Students, workers, trade unionists and the unemployed must unite to fight this policy. Communities must organise if they hope to win. Communities that will be hit the hardest should democratically elect committees made up of people living in those communities in order to organise struggles and campaigns from within. ‘Can’t pay, won’t pay’ campaigns (reminiscent of those employed against the Poll Tax) will be organised not just out of ideology, but out of absolute necessity, as so many tenants will be unable to pay. Tenants effected (and anybody else interested in fighting the policy) should seriously consider joining Unite the Union’s ‘Community Membership’ scheme in order to organise effectively and to ensure legal union representation should it ever be necessary.

The Labour Council in York (and Labour nationally) will claim that its hands are tied in fighting this tax. They will claim they are doing all can, and are investing £1million into Council housing in York; this is just 0.8% of the annual budget.

Never mind the fact that Labour MP Helen Goodman proclaimed that “we have said that the bedroom tax should only apply if people have been offered a smaller place to live and turned it down because obviously it is more efficient to use the housing stock more efficiently”, moving on to say that “we did need to bring down the housing benefit bill”. So what does labour counter pose to this Tory policy, nothing!

This has been evident even at a local level where at a bedroom tax protest organised by Labour left in York on Saturday the 16/03/2013 there was not a single labour councillor present. This however is not surprising, and suggests that the Labour council in York will attempt to push through the “bedroom tax” meaning that communities will not only be taking on the Tories but the Labour council in York as well. The demonstration  attracted around 100 people, members of the York Socialist Party put forward our position, explaining that we will fight alongside ordinary working people and the unions to defeat this tax, organising community action groups to “Stay Calm and Stay Put”.

Socialist Party members at the demonstration

Socialist Party members at the demonstration

The Socialist Party pointed out the £850bn wealth of the major corporations stashed away in the banks, what recession!? Nationalisation of the banks under democratic workers control could bring this money back into the economy to invest in jobs and decent public services. Our call for the nationalisation of the construction industry and to implement a programme of mass council house building also gained wide support amongst people that attended the demonstration, some coming from as far away as Hull and Scarborough. The reception for our ideas was clear, members of the Socialist Party sold 28 papers with many more showing support and signing our petition against the “bedroom tax”.

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They will assert (correctly) that if they refuse to implement cuts and set illegal budgets, Eric Pickles would set the budget for them. This may be true, but these cuts would be the same cuts that are already being implemented; Tory cuts that are rubber-stamped by a Labour Council are still ultimately Tory cuts. The Council could also borrow to cover its costs while it helped to build a fight back. Ultimately, if a democratically elected council that refused to set cuts were to have its budget set by an official that nobody in York wanted, it would send out a much stronger message of resistance to all working people that these ideological attacks can be fought.

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York “Bedroom Tax” Demonstration.

This is a policy that can be defeated, just as U-turns have been forced in other areas of Government policy: the ‘pasty tax’, the decision to award FirstGroup the West Coast mainline, fuel duty rises, the introduction of an English Baccalaureate. And just as victories in the construction industry (where workers overturned a 30% pay-cut) and striking SOVA workers in Sheffield have shown that militant action gets results. All these policies have been defeated. This Coalition is a savage one, but it is one that is fundamentally weak and prone to in-fighting. This is a fight that we must organise, and a fight that we can win!

Jamie Chatfield, York Socialist Party.

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