Thank you G.I.G for this response yesterday to our blog post.
It points out what the previous article forgot to mention: there are material reasons women and mothers are leading the housing struggle. Women take responsibility for the home and for children and so are the antagonists of public service cuts. Workers struggle, defeated, is giving way to a new class struggle in the sphere of reproduction. Women are the new central subjects of these movements all over the place.
If also points out that it forgot to mention that communities (if we must use that word) are not just representations: they are made through struggle. Actions like squatting are everyday resistances which involve our whole life and every dimension of who we are. They can make communities of nasty subtle exclusions and power dynamics. But they are also an opportunity to transform identities like those of gender.
Acknowledging these things does not mean embracing the category mother or even the category woman. Why couldn’t this upturning of class struggle be an opportunity to leave these figures, with those of the working unionised male, way behind? Why couldn’t our methods be those which allow us to transform who we are?
There is no lack of generosity among activists. And the question “what about those of us who are not mothers?” was not intended to discourage it. The question was a reference to the already existing diversity of those of us already involved in housing struggle. It is by recognising our diversity and looking at how we came to be involved in struggle that we can understand how to keep expanding. Expanding generosity.
We now know it is possible to build struggles around public housing where people live close together and all face a threat at once. These situations are like layoffs at the mass factories of the workers movement. They kick off nicely. But how do we initiate struggles beyond these cases? How do we support struggles in areas where there is no need for mass estates to lie visibly empty and be spectacularly levelled? How do we escalate struggles where people live in a mix of private, public and owned housing and where social cleansing relentlessly picks-off individuals over time?
So to question the use of mother-family-community as symbolic weapons is not “moralising about right and wrong” against some radical left communist standard. It is elaborating the very practical imperative of how resistance grows amidst people of disparate and racialised gendered identities, different political and religious affiliations and divided material circumstances. Some people may have come to Aylesbury “to ‘better’ themselves, to reproduce themselves through family, work and property” as you say. But we have met others who have come fleeing political repression and who want to continue to fight.
Perhaps it was not quite right to say in the previous article that we need to forge a “different” representation of who we are. Perhaps it would be better to say that we need to go beyond struggles in the symbolic domain completely. Perhaps what we really need is to leave behind mediated representations and experiment with the ways different people can talk to each other directly and cooperate together. As you say, “the more corporations and money markets seem indifferent to identity and togetherness, the more the appeal to a lost identity or community is available for mobilisation or exploitation in some form”. But the solution is not to add fuel to the fire. Our strength in London – where so many different people continually pass each other by – lies in our continued indifference to nationalism. And it can be fought by continuing to ignore it and, rather than starting to appeal to anything, fighting together around our immediate needs and experimenting with the different kinds of selves and togethernesses these fights allow.
If there has been no let-up in the pace of social cleansing, at least opposition to it is now represented by figures that are warmly received in the media. Motherhood has played a central role in this. Focus E15 Mothers chose to intervene in portrayals of single mothers as incapable, irresponsible scroungers. They created a more empowering image of mothers as serious and capable, even heroes – not only in relation to everyday life but also in relation to the political sphere. As The Guardian put it: “They were once treated as a problem, to be shuttled between temporary accommodation; now they’re pushing solutions to the real issues – preventing London from becoming a city in which the rich live while the rest of us are bussed in to serve them”. They also mobilised tropes of vulnerability and innocence: “Don’t make our babies homeless!” they chanted. When Russell Brand visited the Sweets Way occupation recently, the resulting videos show him discussing with young boys rather than with their parents. Don’t make out babies homeless!
But is not only the struggle itself which created these figures. As a member of Focus E15 pointed out, Jasmin Stone of Focus E15 is a Marxist but this never gets mentioned in the media. The media like to privilege certain groups and divide people into the deserving and undeserving poor. Normally it excludes, for example, black people or recent immigrants from the deserving.
We should ask why the figure of the working class mother has been able to symbolise the deserving poor in this moment. Mothers, perhaps, are reassuring figures of reproduction in a time of fear about capitalism’s ability to sustain the state and its population. They conform to the nurturing ideal of womanhood and the link between woman and the home supported by the right. Perhaps they are also safe figures to represent resistance, because older stereotypes are available be resurrected if needed. The category of the single mum will never completely escape its connotations of feckless promiscuity.
And it is not just a matter of representation but one of demands. Privileging the struggle for council housing sidelines the needs of others – all those, for example who have no chance of ever getting it. What about childless women? Are we less important? Men? What about less obviously working class people, people with University educations for example, who still live with extreme precarity. Are we less important?
This privileging of the needs of a particular group leads to another problem: it puts everyone else in the position of supporting them. It puts them in the position of activists, engage in struggles not orientated to solving their own needs. People advise housing activists not to “go in with their own pre-agenda”. It is important, they say, that “residents” lead campaigns, with activists backing them up… helping them with the media maybe. The problem with this approach is that activists then act like other professionals who craft media representations or perform in the political sphere. No challenge is made to the division of politics from life in general or to the way out interests are perceived as hierarchically divided.
Us in the Aylesbury occupation followed Focus E15 in drawing strength from acting to defend our own immediate practical needs. We described ourselves as squatters rather than activists. We are mainly childless and are from range of class backgrounds. We aim to make Aylesbury our home and to show how empty estates can be directly taken by all those who need them. In our work with tenants and leaseholders in the estate, we are trying to build a movement through which we can gain the solidarity to allow us to defend our occupied flats. But in campaigning to “repopulate” Aylesbury and to defend council housing, our stalls and events also involve us making demands contrary to our own interests. The repopulation of the estate by the council would not solve our housing crisis.
If we are all to fight together in equality for our survival in this city, we need to build a way of talking and acting together which acknowledges our spectrum of fractured interests. Despite these differences, all our different battles are against the capitalist system which divides us up. Calling out this system, and the impoverishment it means for us all in different ways, means forcefully crafting a more radical way of talking, probably against the discourse of the media.
Unity brings us to the problem of community, another concept mobilised with regularity when we speak about the housing struggle. Again, this term is loved by the right as much as the left. But what does it really mean and who does it include and exclude? Many people are forced move around within London a lot, are migrants who have only lived here a short time, or live their whole lives totally cut off from their neighbours. Talking about community is at best a lazy, media-friendly way to talk about class struggle. When we say community, we should mean choice in where we live and who live with and security and power in the place we live.
The problem with all these figures – the mother, the activist, the community – is that they ignore or paper over the differences which keep all of us apart. We need a different language which describes our various situations and experiences in relation to their common root. We need ways of acting which aim to improve the situation of everyone involved. In this way we could create a housing struggle with the power to really challenge the current trajectory of things.
Squat the lot!
Today, court papers arrived.
Southwark Council are seeking another Interim Possession Order (IPO), this time for the ex-offices on the lower floors of Chiltern, as well as most of the 172 flats upstairs (just not the ones still being lived in by leaseholders and tenants).
The case will be heard at 10am on Thursday 2nd April, at Lambeth County Court in Cleaver Street.
This means we’re likely to be evicted a day or two after this.
”REVITALISING” SE17, ONE ESTATE AT A TIME…
Southwark Council have announced their intention to forcibly ‘regenerate’ all 60 acres of the Aylesbury estate, against the wishes of the people who live there.
This will take the form of demolishing every single block. The current residents will be forced out of their homes, and 2716 council flats will be destroyed forever.
A much smaller number of “social rented units” (just 1323) will be available afterwards, and anybody offered re-housing in these will be expected to pay far higher rents & service charges (and have much less secure tenancies than they have right now).
We believe the entire estate could be refurbished, at approx one tenth of the cost of brand new buildings, and with much less disruption, upheaval and pollution. This has been done successfully elsewhere, but Southwark claim it would be “impossible” to save even one block from the bulldozers.
The real reason for this is to increase the number of privately owned flats in the area. 2252 new flats will be put on the market for those who can afford them. Meanwhile, many thousands of us will be forced to leave the neighbourhood.
We’ve watched what happened to the Heygate. People living nearby are worried that if Southwark gets away with this, their estate will be next.
We are occupying empty blocks on the estate as a protest against the council’s plans.
FIGHT FOR THE AYLESBURY
YOU MIGHT BE NEXT!
Download posters and flyers from the “Stuff to Print” part of our website – https://fightfortheaylesbury.wordpress.com/stuff-to-print/
Nobody should have to live in a cage
Even it’s painted purple in places and topped with some shiny sparkly silvery sharp stuff
Southwark Council are spending thousands of pounds every day on security guards, and plenty more on the actual fencing
Leaving the remaining tenants and leaseholders to trudge around the entire perimeter every time they want to enter and leave their homes. A detour of around half a mile, which isn’t fun with heavy shopping and small children…
<Click on the blue text to see posters with pictures that you can download and print out>
For weeks, Southwark Council, despite the fortifications they have built, have failed to stop us coming and going from the part of the Aylesbury that falls within the “First Development Site”, ie everything west of Portland Street and south of Westmoreland Street. All they have achieved isto outrage the residents still living in the block who now have to negotiate their way through a militarised zone to get home. The fortifications are likely illegal and are unsafe.
Today, the council’s siege became more effective. They first tried to illegally break into the occupation and, having failed, are now blocking all doors from which people need to come and go in order to get basics like food.
Solidarity for those inside the occupation!
Don’t let the occupation end!
Demo at 6pm tonight! Meet at the front of the occupied building, on the corner of Portland Street and Albany Road.
A practical scheme, people say, is either one that already exists or one that can be carried out within existing conditions. But it is exactly existing conditions that we object to. The practical scheme has the force to break them
Yesterday, after the march opposing the demolition of the estate, we occupied residential flats above the ex- council regeneration and planning offices in Chiltern House. Rather than waiting to be evicted from our occupation in the offices, we took the initiative and expanded.
The Aylesbury will not sit empty, waiting for demolition. We who have need of it, will make use of it. We won’t wait in vain for the council to change their policies. We will take control of housing conditions ourselves.
Perhaps it seems like a crazy thing to do: to go from renting a flat to squatting one. But affordable, stable housing is becoming rarer and rarer. Breaking with the bare comforts of the status quo, and re-taking the houses in which we want to live, is the only scheme by which we can save our homes.