Socialist challenge to cost-of-living crisis in Hackney mayor election

by Brian Debus, Hackney TUSC convenor

The working class in Hackney will have the option of voting for a 100% anti-austerity fighter in the east London borough’s mayoral by-election on 9 November. The Socialist spoke to Annoesjka Valent, a Socialist Party member and trade union organiser, who is standing for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC).

“Working-class and young people in Hackney have been let down. Mayors and councillors from all the main parties choose to pass on Tory government cuts rather than fight for us. They have slashed over £200 million of jobs and services in real terms since 2009!

Hackney library workers on strike to save jobs. Photo: Brian Debus

“That amounts to hundreds of jobs slashed across the whole council workforce, the latest being in libraries where the council faced down a strike by Unison union members this year. It is also why Hackney’s youth centres have vanished, and schools are closing.

“Landlord licensing has stopped, and housing offices closed. Cuts have created backlogs of repairs and casework, with black mould running rampant in many council homes. And this council keeps on approving developments of unaffordable private flats, and bringing in new punitive fees and fines!

“This mayoral election will decide who negotiates for our borough with both the present government, and the next one. I worked for the council for around seven years, including in community safety.

“I was a local shop steward for council staff, and since moving on I am still involved in local struggles against all cuts. As mayor I would be a shop steward fighting for the residents and workers of Hackney, not a manager passing down austerity from the Tories or Starmer’s Labour.

“That means starting to rebuild the jobs and homes we need — and sending the bill to Number 10. Hackney council has over £345 million in ‘usable’ reserves to kick things off. Most importantly, it has the platform to build a mass campaign of workers, unions and the community to win more resources from government and the super-rich.”

Hackney council censors TUSC mayoral address

TUSC had its original mayoral election address censored twice before being accepted by the council’s legal department. This is a scandal!

The changes removed reference to the Labour Party and their candidate Caroline Woodley’s leading role in trying to close Fernbank and Hillside children’s centre — defeated by a community campaign including the Socialist Party.

We are not only having to fight the establishment candidate, but the council apparatus that has enacted these attacks. If you want change, vote for a candidate who will fight the Tory government cuts — cuts that all the other parties in this election have failed to mount a real challenge against.

Our demands include:

  • Mass construction of council homes, and rent controls in the private sector
  • Save our services! Reverse all austerity cuts and privatisation, including youth centres and library jobs
  • Stop the school closures! Reduce class sizes to improve education instead
  • Child Q – never again. Replace the punitive culture the council has allowed in schools with a pastoral culture. School unions, students, parents and the community must be in charge
  • Fight pollution, not the poor! Fight for a free-to-use, publicly owned, expanded public transport system.
  • For genuine, democratic consultation with communities, workers and surrounding areas on changes to roads
  • Invest in socially useful job creation on real living wages, without youth exemption, and trade union conditions

For rent control and council homes

  • Vote Annoesjka Valent for Hackney mayor
  • Join the London march against the housing crisis

by Rob Thomas, Hackney Socialist Party

The housing crisis in the London Borough of Hackney is a similar story to that found across London, and throughout Britain. The large majority of housing is concentrated in the hands of private landlords and competition is intense.

Searching for somewhere to live is almost like a full-time job — constantly reviewing sites for new listings and arranging bookings as soon as possible. Tenants are now expected to bid against one another. One listing we saw when looking to move asked for “offers over…” There have even been reports of tenants being charged viewing fees, just for the privilege of viewing a property.

When I listed the room I used to rent, it became apparent just how desperate the situation is. Within one hour I had received 30 applications, by the end of the day the total passed 100, and over the weekend the number of applications rose well over 300.

The marketisation of renting — a massive shift away from council housing to private rip-offs — has resulted in crisis. There is no affordable housing for private renters today and, after years of austerity — a further transfer of wealth to the richest in society — our services are also at breaking point. Housing is insecure, ridiculously expensive and conditions are dangerous for many.

It is clear that drastic change is needed to secure safe, affordable housing for all. The Socialist Party demands rent controls now as an immediate emergency measure. And for councils to use their powers to register and license landlords to enforce decent housing standards. Hackney Council closed its (very limited) licensing scheme at the start of this month!

We need mass council house building now, and for the thousands of properties in London kept empty as investments for the super-rich to be taken over for use as council homes. After a decade of meekly accepting Tory austerity, Labour Hackney council and others say there is no money to spend.

Socialist Party member Annoesjka Valent is standing as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition in the upcoming Hackney mayoral by-election — making the case that the council should spend the money now to meet need, and demand that an incoming Labour government reimburse the funding by taking the cash off the super-rich.

On Saturday 28 October, the Socialist Party is organising a protest against London’s housing crisis. Starting at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, we will march to Trafalgar Square, bringing together trade unionists and housing campaigners in what will be the start of a long campaign against predatory landlordism and profiteering. We will continue to struggle for decent housing, a new mass working-class party to fight for it, and for the socialist transformation of society.

Rats and mould: taking on negligent landlords in court

My partner spent two years previously living in an unlicensed ‘house in multiple occuption’ (HMO) with significant black mould and rat infestation problems. She is now involved in a court case against the landlord for a ‘rent repayment order’.

With no access to legal aid, cut through austerity, she is using ‘no win, no fee’ Justice for Tenants as her legal counsel:

“We were told that we have to prove that he was a bad landlord to improve our chances of winning and so we collectively spent weeks compiling emails, photos, and writing witness statements to prove we in fact lived in the house, were not related, and that the landlord didn’t fix what he needed to.

“I had a series of emails with the council’s environmental health department as we tried to get help with our black mould and rat infestations over years. I quite literally had to beg them for help. An officer came to inspect the property, filed a report saying we indeed had serious black mould and rodent problems, and ordered the landlord to fix them. When he did not, they never spoke on the issue again.

“I filed a complaint. Luckily this is good evidence now for our HMO case, but it didn’t help us at the time. The council report also found the landlord had not installed proper fire protection.

“I also did digging on the council‘s website and found that some incredibly invasive building works the landlord was doing on the house during Covid lockdown restrictions were done without planning permission. This included workers drilling out front, bursting a water pipe, and coming into the house to use the electricity and bathroom facilities.

“I was originally under the impression that this would be a simple tribunal decision and there would not be a court date. But I’ve now been told I’ll need to head to court in person in January to give my statement and evidence in order to maximise our chances of the decision going in our favour.”

We have no idea about the other tenants in the flats above. Both families squeezed into small flats.

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