By Nicola Crawford and Jim McFarlane
Saturday 27th April saw over 250 delegates and visitors from across the length and breadth of Scotland attend the conference to found the ‘All Scottish Anti Bedroom Tax Federation’. Delegates represented 70 local anti-bedroom tax campaigns. Also sending delegates were four trade union branches representing local government and Housing Association workers.
In his opening remarks from the chair, Brian Smith, Branch Secretary of Glasgow City Unison and a member of Socialist Party Scotland set the tone in referring to the conference and the Federation as an expression of the local campaigns rooted in communities. “That is the strength of this movement, and that is how the bedroom tax will be defeated.”
Alan Smart, aka Citizen Smart, opened the conference with his now legendary reworking of the Jeely Piece song, “You canny have a spare room in a pokey cooncil flat” already viewed 160,000 times on YouTube soon to available as a download with all proceeds going to the Federation.
The opening part of the conference began with Gary Burns of Govan Law Centre. Gary talked about the approach of Govan Law Centre and it’s petition campaign to get the Scottish Government to change Section 16 of the Housing Act that would prevent evictions taking place. Gary also urged anyone facing legal proceedings to contact Law Centres to ensure they get proper advice.
Dave Keating from the Campaign against Household and Water Taxes in Ireland and a member of the Socialist Party in Cork referred to the magnificent poll tax struggle that began in Scotland and the inspiration, but more importantly the lessons, it provided to the fight currently taking place in Ireland.
Dave explained that the campaign was built up by undertaking local stalls and door to door canvassing, speaking to people in local communities. From here the campaign soon escalated to the filling of large halls with thousands of people in attendance. This is how mass non registration for the tax, currently standing at 48%, came about. “To date no one has been fined or taken to court because the court systems couldn’t cope and if they did try to take action the campaign would flood the courts in protest”. He explained.
Dave went on to explain the effect of the huge austerity measures in Ireland where 20% of children now live in poverty. This is against the backdrop of a massive transfer of wealth from the working class to the rich. There has been a €64 billion bailout of the banks and the ruling class have declared war on working class people. He went on to explain that the struggle has been hampered by the sell-out of the Labour Party and the leadership of the Trade Union movement but the campaign intends to stand candidates to give working people an anti-austerity alternative to vote for. The rejection of a rotten deal “Croke Park II” by unions who have taken a fighting stance also shows a way forward.
The opening rally also heard from a speaker from the Platform Against Mortgage Default in Barcelona by telephone line. She passed on their solidarity and outlined the brutal attacks on living standards facing working class people in Spain.
Sandra White, SNP MSP, pledged to physically stand with anyone in her constituency threatened with eviction. However, she ruled out the need for her government to change section 16 to prevent evictions. She also opposed the demand for the Scottish Government to use just £52 million a year to ensure that no one on Housing Benefit would be worse off.
A number of delegates were angered by her dismissal of the idea of using the Scottish Government Block Grant to make up the shortfall lost to housing providers (the SNP has already offset the Con Dem’s cut to council tax benefit by taking this approach) stating “if we began down that road where would that end?” She continued her contribution by calling for those present to vote for Scottish Independence in September 2014 as the only sure way of defeating the ConDem cuts. This drew criticisms from a significant number of speakers who demanded that the SNP government stand up now and fight to defend working class people.
The Founding Statement was moved. Some of its main demands include ideas Socialist Party Scotland has prominently raised in the campaign like the building of an anti-eviction army to physically oppose any attempted evictions
The statement called for the writing off of any debt accrued due to the bedroom tax and supported the building of new social housing. As well as the important demand to oppose all cuts and austerity measures.
Jim McFarlane from Dundee Bin the Bedroom Tax Campaign outlined how the campaign there put pressure on the local council and ensured that Dundee was the first council in the country to pledge no evictions, at least for a year. This was a welcome concession but doesn’t go far enough.
There had been some debate leading up to the conference on whether politicians who oppose the bedroom tax in words yet vote for cuts should be welcomed uncritically into the federation. Some talked about the need to build the broadest campaign possible and that this was the only way of securing support from trade union leaders.
But the point is that accepting support from people who support other cuts or attacks on the working class damages the credibility of the campaign. When those politicians accept the need for some cuts they are accepting the arguments of the Tories and New Labour that the working class should pay for this economic crisis. Any mass campaign has to be built on a principled basis.
Sinead Daly from the Ardler campaign in Dundee pointed to the example of communities organising to prevent warrant sales taking place during the struggle to get rid of the poll tax. Referring to the Founding Statement, she explained that the bedroom tax represents a conscious attack on the working class “rents have rocketed for one bedroom flats” and pointing out the financial madness the tax represents “it will cost more money to evict families than will be saved.”
a political voice
Ian Leech, Glasgow Unison rep and delegate from Glasgow Southside talked about the need to link up communities and trade unions to oppose the cuts and how we need a mass party that represents trade unionists and working class communities as none of the main parties oppose the cuts agenda of big business and the Tories. He further explained that his Union branch policy was to welcome the support of any elected member to their campaign that commits to “no to all cuts” and sets budgets that defends local services.
Luke Ivory, a delegate from the East End of Glasgow campaign, took this issue up in his contribution and was given loud applause when he declared that if the existing political representatives were not prepared to oppose the cuts then we should look to stand against them. He gave the example of the fighting socialist council in Liverpool in the 1980s who fought the Thatcher government as something to take inspiration from.
After a number of contributions the founding statement and aims were unanimously agreed by the delegates.
Elections were then held for office bearers. Amongst the newly elected were Luke Ivory, Socialist Party Scotland member who was elected Secretary of the Federation and Tommy Sheridan who was elected Chair.
The closing session heard from trade unionists and Tommy Gorman a prominent activist involved in the fight to save Disibility Day Centres from Labour cuts in Glasgow.
Tommy Sheridan brought the conference to a close with a call for an all Scotland demonstration against the Bedroom Tax to be held on the 1st June. He reminded the audience of the momentous battle against the poll tax and the tactics and strategy used then that would be just as relevant today.
He welcomed the support of trade union organisations for the federation and urged more to do so. But also referred to the fact that working class communities had organised to defeat the poll tax without the support of the right wing trade union and Labour leaders. He criticised the SNP Government’s failure to amend Section 16 of the Housing Scotland Act 2001, that sought to prevent evictions by treating bedroom tax arrears as ordinary debt. “If the SNP want a Yes vote in 2014 they need to stand up and fight the Tories now”.
Delegates and visitors went back to their local areas even more determined to build the federation into a mass campaign covering the length and breadth of the country.
The introduction of the bedroom tax by the Tory-led Government in Westminster is part of a vicious attack on the poorest sections of the working class.
The Tories claim that the bedroom tax will “save” £500 million. Yet the richest 1 000 people in the UK now have a combined wealth estimated at £450 billion. The Tories want to force the poor to choose between buying food, paying bills or paying their rent, in order to help pay for an economic crisis they did not create.
Protests and mass non-payment defeated the hated Tory Poll Tax. The Tory-Lib Dem bedroom tax can be beaten too.
Support local communities to set up anti- bedroom tax meetings and form local anti-bedroom tax groups. Help coordinate local groups to form a strong and united fightback to stop evictions and scrap the bedroom tax.
Call on all local authorities, housing associations, and the Scottish and Westminster governments to support a no evictions policy and refuse to implement the bedroom tax.
To recognise the Scottish Government has the power to amend Section 16 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001, to treat bedroom tax arrears as ordinary debt – not rent arrears – and calls on the Scottish Government to implement this change immediately, in line with the Govan Law Centre petition to lift the threat of bedroom tax evictions from the 105 000 households effected by the bedroom tax in Scotland.
Build an anti-evictions army of ordinary citizens to physically oppose, resist and prevent attempted bedroom tax evections anywhere in Scotland through all peaceful means necessary, and assemble phone trees, Facebook lists, and other social media networks that may be required to facilitate the building of such an anti-eviction army.
Call on the Scottish Government to prevent both bedroom tax debt and job losses resulting from the bedroom tax, by funding the loss of housing benefit income and then fighting to win that money back from the Tory-led Government at Westminster.
To work closely with trade unions to stop evictions and scrap the bedroom tax, and work with trade unions to help support workers affected by the bedroom tax and those who refuse to implement evictions or the bedroom tax.
Campaign for the writing off of any debt incurred due to the bedroom tax and campaign to recover the shortfall for local authorities and housing associations from the Tory-led government at Westminster.
Support the building of new social housing to provide the homes people need.
Oppose all cuts and austerity measures. Oppose all attacks on the poor, unemployed, disabled, vulnerable and working class people including the so called “welfare reform bill”.