Down with the fences

alcatraz demo poster w gate

Several hundred people responded to our call-out for an “Eviction Eve solidarity demo”.

Solidarity with the remaining residents, who are still living in the enclosure (aka “First Development Site”), and will be for months to come.

For the past few weeks, the presence of the fences and security guards has made life intolerable for these people.

They have been asking why they’re no longer able to get in and out of their homes using the most convenient routes, and the nearest gates. Despite having guards stationed at each gate 24 hours/day, legitimate residents have been forced to make an arduous detour – of up to half a mile – each time they enter or leave (!) the area, leaving some house-bound.

They complain that they weren’t consulted about this arrangement, and that it’s not what they envisioned when they lobbied the council last year to install door-entry systems on the blocks themselves.

Whenever their friends or family come to visit, the security guards make them come all the way to the main gate to authorise their guests’ entry. Anyone not capable of walking the extra distance has been unable to visit.

Despite having every right to be there, guests of tenants and leaseholders have reported being intimidated and sometimes chased through the estate by security guards. Some of them have even been assaulted and ejected from the area. The security guards have acted unlawfully and with impunity. The police have still not taken any action about these assaults.

When the fences went up, and the locks were fitted on the gates, some of the residents were assured that they would be given keys for these locks. Two weeks later, no keys.

And no response from the council about any of these complaints. Even when the story made it into the newspapers, all the council spokesperson could say was that they would “review the situation”. Still no word on that review.

We’ve been forced to leave Chiltern House, due to the Interim Possession Order granted to the council in court on Thursday. We’ve left the enclosure. With us gone, there is absolutely no excuse for the council to keep treating the residents “like animals” (their own words), trapped in what has now been dubbed “Alcatraz”.

Obviously the residents have not been the only people affected by the fences. It’s clear to us that their construction was “expedited” (speeded up) because of our occupations. The council hoped to stop us from protesting, and stop people from the rest of the estate/ world from coming to visit us.

If leaseholders and their tenants were adversely affected, the council probably just hoped that it would encourage them to move out quicker, and accept whatever incredibly insultingly low figure offered to them for their flats. Just like the elderly folk CPO (Compulsary Purchase Order) -ed out of the Wolverton flats, these people’s lives are just collatoral damage to Southwark.

The council didn’t bother with planning permission or stopping up orders, meaning that the fences themselves are illegal.

Along with hundreds of others from the neighbourhood, we took direct action against the fences. On the evening of 2nd April, we brought down the fences in three places, spread out around the perimeter. No machinery was involved – it was pure people power.

bits of rope

The Creation Trust claims to represent those who live on the Aylesbury, and says it cares about their views. It claims to “consult” but isn’t very good at listening. Just like the council itself, it has ignored the complaints of both leaseholders and tenants. These days, the Creation Trust is almost entirely controlled by the council, in the shape of people like Councillor Mark Williams. He could have done something to help the beleagured residents if he had wanted to.

Instead of doing something themselves, they decided to brand our action a “cheap publicity stunt”. Anyone who had actually taken the time to read our media policy would find this laughable. We don’t do things for publicity. We do things because they need done. We do things for ourselves, together, sometimes together with others, and we don’t wait for permission.

We’re not going to pander to the politicians, to the media, to those paid to “represent”, “consult” or “revitalise” us. We’re not going to sit back and wait for them to do the right thing. They’re already in the pockets of the developers, the privateers, and the other financial interests at play here.

We have not stopped Fighting for the Aylesbury and against its destruction. We continue to stand in solidarity with the leaseholders and tenants who want to stay on the estate.

As last night’s demonstration showed, more and more people are willing to take direct action to defend public land and housing.

We will continue to take direct action ourselves, and we will continue to occupy space.

Watch our blog for updates

fuck southwark council

PS: There was only one arrest on Thursday night. The police have consistently failed to take complaints of security guard violence seriously. However, they did arrest an Aylesbury leaseholder, following an incident with a belligerent guard, well after the fences had fallen, and most of the protestors had left the area.

This news prompted a spontaneous, and very lively, solidarity demo at Walworth Road cop shop, which continued long after her release.

Despite five hours in custody, she was upbeat about the campaign, and touched by the large number of people waiting for her. We support all arrestees, and will support her through whatever happens next.

While we there we met a lot of people, and made some new friends. Including one elderly man who had been called in to collect his daughter at 6pm, and was still waiting for her nine hours later. The custody suite repeatedly told him that she would be released “soon” but refused to give him any other explanation for the long wait in the cold.

As he said himself “It’s no wonder that people don’t like the police”. Anyway with our presence and music we made the police station reception a less intimidating and unfriendly place than it usually is.

What next on the Aylesbury? Article from Southwark Notes

Some analysis from the excellent Southwark Notes website

https://southwarknotes.wordpress.com/

What a week! Three crucial and significant things have happened this week for the ongoing fight against the demolition of the Aylesbury Estate and the social cleansing this entails.

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1) THE OCCUPATION

After two months in residence in three different buildings on the Phase 1 Aylesbury site, the Occupation has decided that it is time to leave. The difficulty of 24 hour security guards who at times assaulted them, stole their stuff as well as the famous ‘Alcatraz’ fence that made it hard to get back into their chosen home made the Occupation increasingly stressful. The Lapa Security guards, who as minimum wage workers we would usually have some sympathy for, were mostly bullies to both the Occupiers and the residents. Some of them were the same guards used at the Heygate site when the Council fenced in the last three leaseholders. One of them on Aylesbury was even the same guy who assualted a Heygate leaseholder in 2013. Police were informed when that happened, issued a crime number but did not do anything about it despite the guy’s name and employer being known.
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Although from Southwark Notes people’s family and work commitments we were unable to be around the Occupation much, we did get to know some of them and we take our hats off to all of them. They were so well organised and strategic and definitely sussed on the need to keep the Occupation dynamic and not get bogged down on the terms of the Council, the police or the security guards. They always set the agenda. After two amazing months having an exit strategy for leaving is part of that suss.

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The Occupation is proof that sometimes you just got try something and see what happens! That’s definitely the case here. There are many arguments made about who is local and who is not. Who has a right to do what and who doesn’t. The Occupation has thrown up some great lessons into those questions and these will remain pertinent throughout the next few years of anti-regeneration struggles that are happening.

Although no-one from the Occupation was ever a tenant or resident of Aylesbury there were some long-term connections to the tenants struggle. In two months, the Occupiers ran themselves ragged making more connections, publicising the Aylesbury campaign all over the estate, organising events for all, working with the campaigns to make it known to Creation Trust, the Council and MP’s that all is not well on Aylesbury. There are a significant number of people there who do no want to be thrown out of the homes they love and who do not trust that they will be able to afford any of the new rented ‘affordable’ homes that get built there. The Occupation and the work of the campaigns has been a huge boost to those people who are consistently shut down and marginalised by the regeneration machine

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The Occupation also shows that not all housing struggle occupations are the same and that has been a very useful lesson. They always insisted that the Occupation was both an act of solidarity with the Aylesbury campaigns and also the taking of homes for themselves as squatters seeking other necessary ways to live against the brutalities of mad private rents and the lack of any chance of a council tenancy. Alongside this, the Occupation maintained itself as a protest against the fairly recent criminalisation of squatting in residential buildings. With so many luxury flats bought as investments and then kept empty by their owners, this new law is vile and punishing. Everyone needs a roof over their head. The Occupation’s insistence on “squatting the lot’ makes sense when you look how at the housing crisis gets worse and worse. With the demolition of public housing (such as Heygate and Aylesbury), where else will people go?

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The Occupiers short leaving leaving statement sums up their defiance and attitude: ‘ We are squatters who are not bound by the borders of the Aylesbury estate. We are residents who still have leases and tenancies. We are everyone who needs a place to stay. We are bound by nothing but this need.


2) THE FENCES
What to say? The Occupation’s leaving present was particularly momentous. When the last 20 or so residents around Bradenham and Chiltern asked the Council to maintain security around their homes they never asked to be fenced in behind locked doors. The residents remain clear on this despite the Council’s public statements that the fences were asked for. We’ve heard stories of residents afraid to leave their homes due to the guards, of residents crying from the stress, of relatives unable to visit, of residents’ mail being intercepted, of vulnerable people having to walk half a mile more around the estate due to the fences. It was clear from talking to residents that the fences were a humiliation. From talking to local people, it was clear the fences were a disgrace.

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From the publicity that was first made by the residents and then others about the ‘Alcatraz’ fences, a groundswell of anger built slowly over the weeks towards the Council’s indifference to residents suffering. Not only this but how the fencing in of residents and the occupation showed how the regeneration scheme proceeds now on its own logic of success with little attention paid to both its unpopularity and the suffering it is causes. There can no longer be any real truth that the regeneration will benefit the local community. Not now and definitely not in the future.

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It was no real secret that the fences would be pulled down. That was why people came to the demo and that is what was put into practice. 250 people came together to support a necessary direct action against this fence, the symbol of the violence of regeneration. As we said a few times now, regeneration politics never looked this way one year ago. A massive shift has occurred where people no longer have faith in the institutions that supposedly work on their behalf: planning committees, regeneration consultants, councils and so on. People know they need to do things for themselves and defend what they have. Protests, occupations, direct actions have all have upped the ante. We welcome this because this is what was needed and because these tactics work!

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3) AYLESBURY GOING FORWARD

Seeing the fences come down was a great moment and it remains a moment. Just one moment of all the work done so far – street stalls, petitioning, public meetings, researching, writing, publicising, organising, learning together. We don’t mistake the fences for the trees. We are sure the fences are mended and back in place. It’s up to the residents and supporters to still maintain pressure to get them permanently removed. It’s also vital we support the one arrested Aylesbury resident of the night and we will post further details on this when she is ready. 20 people held a party outside Walworth cop shop as they waited for her to get out! It is also vital to keep on supporting the Aylesbury campaigns, both the tenants and the leaseholders.

Significantly, on the same day as the fences came down the venue for the Aylesbury Estate Compulsory Purchase Order Public Inquiry on 28th April and subsequent days was announced: Conference Centre, Millwall FC, The Den, Zampa Rd, London SE16 3LN

These few days are where there will be an open and public examination of whether the regeneration on Aylesbury will be of any benefit to the local community.We invite all who support the Aylesbury residents to attend and listen to the arguments, support those giving evidence and testimony and also if you are in a position to help as a legal bod or some kind of expert in planning, CPO, regeneration, housing policy etc, please get involved.

The leaseholders Statement of Case is worth reading but we also summarised some of it here. It makes the case that the regeneration is only about being a private development scheme that will see most residents displaced to either existing Council homes (like this one) or see leaseholders unable to stay in the local area (like Heygate), We doubt very few tenants or residents will take up residence in the new homes Notting Hill Housing Trust (NHHT) promise to build.

And here’s why:
nhht aff 58% 1 nhht aff 58% 2

Also on the same day the fences were toppled, we had a reply from our question to Notting Hill Housing trust re: the tenure status of their 44 ‘affordable’ homes on their Exchange development in Bermondsey Spa. When planning permission was agreed, the application had NHHT promise 44 homes for ‘social rent’. That means that the rents are set according to income levels as determined by the National Rent Regime regulatory framework. This also means that these 44 homes were more likely to be affordable to local people. After the planning permission was agreed, when a later S106 agreement was signed with the Council, the 44 ‘social rent’ homes had changed unchallenged by the Council to ’44 Affordable Rent’ homes. NHHT clarified to us this week that they mean to rent these flats at 58% of local private rent prices. That could be up to £250 – 300 per week or more!

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The Council very well knows the difference between ‘social rent’ and ‘affordable rent’. “Affordable rent’ was introduced by the Government in 2011. It means that Housing Associations such as NHHT can charge up to 80% of market rent for these supposedly ‘affordable’ homes. The council were part of 4 councils seeking a Judicial Review of ‘affordable rent’ as in the words on then Council Head of Regeneration Fiona Colley: ‘We are very keen to seek a judicial review of this decision. Maybe there are some areas of London where rent levels of 80% of market rent are affordable to most people, but they certainly aren’t in Southwark. The implication of the mayor’s decision is that councils will have little power to make sure new affordable housing is really, genuinely affordable for local people‘.

Not only this but the Council wrote to Boris Johnson in March 2012 outlining in detail how ‘affordable rent’ would be entirely out of reach of most Southwark residents pockets. See Southwark’s own graph above which shows how a council rent in Walworth is roughly £108 per week. Under ‘affordable rent’, the equivalent rent would be (at 2012 prices!) £226 per week. Southwark’s letter is here: Southwark Letter to Boris Affordable Rent

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Whereas before NHHT has guaranteed in its planning application 44 social rent units, through sleight of hand and unopposed by the Council, these 44 homes have been taken away from local people. What concerns us is that as NHHT are the regeneration partner for Aylesbury regeneration will the promised 100’s of social rented homes on that site be magically transformed into ‘affordable rent’ ones? It’s a concern also because the loss of 44 social rent homes at The Exchange also means less homes for decanted tenants from Aylesbury. If 1000’s of Aylesbury tenants will only end up being rehoused in existing council stock outside the Aylesbury area then it makes a mockery of the regeneration benefiting tenants with new homes. With NHHT zealous love of ‘affordable rent’, will they seriously stump up the promised number of new social rented homes at Aylesbury? Increasingly Housing Associations are converting their existing social rent properties to affordable rent. In the past three years, London and Quadrant switched 1,673 tenancies earning an extra £4.2m and Notting Hill Housing Trust switched 853 earning an extra £3.3m. Both L&Q and NHHT are development partners at Aylesbury. Will the social rent homes L&Q built on Phase 1 slowly be switched or re-let to more expensive rents?

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Horrible questions that need answers and these answers only seen to come from paying constant attention and constantly demanding them. For Southwark Council in its dreamworld of regeneration, everything is fine and everything is dandy. Their regeneration proceeds smoothly as social cleansing is either explicit or sneaked in through the back door. But there are many regeneration fences that are ready to be pulled, be they ‘Alcatraz’ ones or taking on the Council, NHHT and anyone else. We haven’t given up yet!

Even when we lose in court, we win in the streets. Victory to the Aylesbury!

Today, after tearing down the fences built by Southwark council to isolate us, we left our occupation of the Aylesbury Estate. Several hundred people came to destroy the cages. No fence can contain us. No fence can keep us out. We are squatters who are not bound by the borders of the Aylesbury estate. We are residents who still have leases and tenancies. We are everyone who needs a place to stay. We are bound by nothing but this need. See you soon at Aylesbury. See you soon at Sweets Way. See you at the Guinness Trust. See you at UAL, LSE, Kings and Goldsmiths. See you soon in all the squats. See you at every protest and minor act of resistance. See you soon everywhere.

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Another film from Watchful Eye

Eviction Eve Demo this Thursday!

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panoramicfenceOver the past few days and nights, we have seen an escalation in intimidating behaviour and actual violence from the security guards.

They claim to be following orders from Southwark Council, to deny access to the ‘First Development Site ‘ (FDS) area, which is now entirely sealed off with a large fence. Not just deny access to us (we who continue to occupy in Chiltern) but also anyone else trying to visit the area.

There are still around twenty households (both leaseholders and tenants) who haven’t been ‘decanted’ yet, and they are also suffering from the fencing. Despite the presence of security guards at each of the seven gates around its perimeter, they are not allowed to enter or leave through six of those gates. Instead they are forced to make a lengthy detour, all the way over to the gate on Westmoreland Road, every time they leave their homes or come back in.

If guests want to visit them, the security guards insist that the residents must come all the way to that one gate to fetch them. This had made it impossible for many elderly friends and relatives to visit at all, and has left at least one woman housebound.

Whenever asked about the fencing/ security arrangements, the council trot out a line about how they did this because those residents asked them to. From our conversations with the residents, it’s clear that this is a lie. Some of them asked for doors to be fitted to the actual blocks they live in, with an entry-phone system to let their guests in, but they didn’t ask for this. They had no wish to deprive people from walking their dogs, or travelling across this corner of the estate, and hate the fact that they now live in what is effectively a big cage.

The council ignored their requests, and built the fence without any consultation, without any planning permission (neither for the fence nor for the proposed development) and without obtaining ‘stopping up orders’, even though its construction has prevented members of the public from using rights of way across the estate.

When they first fitted the gates, the residents were told they’d be given keys, so they could continue using the gate nearest to their flats/ most convenient for them. However this hasn’t happened.

Not content with abusing their power at the gates, the security are also now prowling the enclosure, chasing anyone they see and challenging them in an intimidating manner. They are telling people that this is now a “dead zone” and that nobody may walk through it. They have physically attacked anyone they suspect of supporting the protest, including some people who were making legitimate visits to lawfully occupied flats, and were therefore not trespassing in any way.

There have been a number of unprovoked attacks on people within the enclosure, with security guards going well beyond any notion of “reasonable force” when restraining/ frogmarching/ dragging them out of the enclosure/ down stairwells/ down from trees and ladders and buildings. They have kicked, punched and attempted to strangle people.

They have stolen items – including a laptop belonging to a supporter of the campaign – and on Friday night criminally damaged a rope ladder belonging to us (after grabbing it while one of our friends was standing on it, with absolutely no regard for his health and safety).

Although we have filmed some of these incidents, we haven’t captured them all on camera because in some cases we were caught unaware, or because these things took place in dark corners to isolated people, or because we only have a limited number of cameras at the occupation.

Call-out for cameras!  And for solidarity action!

Rather than asking supporters to come along to Lambeth County Court on Thursday morning, we are instead calling out for a demo around the estate itself on Thursday evening.

In solidarity with the remaining residents trapped behind the fence.

Eviction Eve Demo on Thurs 2nd April:

Gather from 6.30pm onwards at the western end of Burgess Park

(the main gate onto Camberwell Road, near the tennis courts).

We will move off at 7pm sharp!

downwithallfences

Reply to a response: mothers and communitites

Thank you G.I.G for this response yesterday to our blog post.

http://www.generalintellectgroup.org/blog/

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.

B

Mothers kids activists and communities: the need for a different representation of the housing struggle

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!

Occupiers B&R