Counihan-Sanchez Housing Campaign: Motion To The AGM From Socialist Fight

14/10/2013 by socialistfight

Counihan-Sanchez Housing Campaign:
Motion To The AGM From Socialist Fight

This AGM instructs its officers to enter negotiations with the Brent Housing Action to explore the possibility of forming one Housing Campaign in Brent, name to be democratically determined. Our discussions should focus on the lack of council houses and how to build a local and national campaign to address this issue. Therefore the sale of council housing must be absolutely opposed and direct demands on the government and, via the Labour Representation Committee, on the Labour leadership and any Labour government that might be elected in 2015.

This AGM will appoint a small negotiating committee to discuss these aims and objectives and a joint programme of work to bring any proposals for amalgamation back to the respective groups. Motivation One housing campaign is necessary both organisationally and politically. Organisationally duplication of efforts makes no sense and the combined talents and energy of both groups would obviously be greater than the addition of the separate efforts.counihanThe difficulties are political. The main groups involved in the Counihan Campaign were the Socialist party, the RCG, Socialist Fight and some members of the SWP and the Labour party. Therefore the Campaign tended to be anti-Labour party in general, not just anti-Labour leadership and Labour councils carrying out the cuts, particularly as these affected housing. Efforts to drive wedges into and encourage soft left councillors to become harder and take a principled stance tended to be scorned. It should be mentioned here that it is impossible to separate housing from issues like defence of the NHS and education because these are intimately bound up together but the Campaign correctly approached these from the direction of the fight for council housing.

The Brent Housing Action is (incorrectly) seen by many as Labour party dominated. In general the central role played by the Counihan family themselves and their closest co-thinkers kept tensions about whether to work within and with those who worked within the Labour party to a minimum, despite the occasional conflicts. Holding the ‘middle ground’ like that enabled that campaign to be really dynamic and innovative. It tackled these tensions and resolved them, at least in the course of the Campaign, and was far stronger for that. This allowed the Campaign both to severely harass and expose Brent Labour council and get John McDonald to propose Early Day Motion in the Commons.

This gave the Counihans an ‘in’ to the local and national media, impossible without that left Labour party connection. Now that the housing problems of the Counihan’s are partially and temporarily ‘solved’ the question for that Campaign is where to go from here? The name ‘Counihan Homelessness Campaign’ is no longer appropriate and the focus needs to move on more strongly towards the issues of the fight for Council Housing and from a local to a national level. And there are many exciting suggestion of how to develop the fight emanating from the Campaign.

In particular the project of a Uniform Day for school children and teachers to highlight the effects of bad housing and kids going to school hungry, as highlighted in a recent Daily Mirror pole of teachers. The unity of these two Campaigns can have a similar result. Avoiding tensions and conflicts do not make them go away because these are issues that exist in the real world. But if we have the big picture and unite the dynamism displayed by the Counihan Campaign and the connections and expertise of the Brent Housing Action campaign then this will qualitatively transform the housing campaign in Brent and enable us to tackle the question on a national level.

So let us list the priorities needed to expand the aims of the housing campaign in Bent:
1. An emergency programme of council house building
2. An immediate halt to the Right to Buy
3. No evictions pledge from the Council on Bedroom and benefit caps basis
4. An inventory of empty properties and requisitioning for the immediately housing needs
5. A halt to the moving of tenants out of the borough
6. The exploration of the prospects of welding together a truly National Housing Action campaign; either affiliation to existing ones of fight to form a new one. A proper examination of the basis and ‘constitutions’ of both groups would enable a better list, this is just from memory.

We are sure that no one doubts that the Right to Buy and the “property owning democracy” nonsense is a national government policy, initiated by the Tories under Thatcher to which the Labour party quickly capitulated. Therefore the task is national, political and not just local. If we confine it to local we could be seen as simply ameliorating some of the worst aspects of the attack and allowing the main thrust to advance without challenge. And I am sure that all must acknowledge that the pressure within the Labour party from the left in the Labour Representation Committee and its local members (who do not have to be Labour party members) is a very fruitful avenue of struggle.

And finally we append for information an extract from Fredrick Engels’ On the Housing Question, where he tackles the “bourgeois and petty-bourgeois utopia which would give each worker the ownership of his own dwelling” – the modern ‘property owning democracy’. Note how modern this 1872 document is, how he describes exactly the modern politician: It is the essence of bourgeois socialism to want to maintain the basis of all the evils of present-day society and at the same time to want to abolish the evils themselves. As already pointed out in The Communist Manifesto, the bourgeois socialist “is desirous of redressing social grievances in order to secure the continued existence of bourgeois society,” he wants “a bourgeoisie without a proletariat.”

We have already seen that Dr. Sax formulates the question in exactly the same fashion. The solution he finds in the solution of the housing question. He is of the opinion that: “by improving the housing of the working classes it would be possible successfully to remedy the material and spiritual misery which has been described, and thereby – by a radical improvement of the housing conditions alone – to raise the greater part of these classes out of the morass of their often hardly human conditions of existence to the pure heights of material and spiritual well-being.” (Page 14.)

Incidentally, it is in the interests of the bourgeoisie to disguise the fact of the existence of a proletariat created by the bourgeois production relations and determining the continued existence of these production relations. And, therefore, Dr. Sax tells us (page 21) that the expression working classes is to be understood as including all “impecunious social classes,” “and in general, people in a small way, such as handicraftsman, widows, pensioners (!), subordinate officials, etc.,” as well as actual workers. Bourgeois socialism extends its band to the petty-bourgeois variety.

Whence then comes the housing shortage? How did it arise? As a good bourgeois, Dr. Sax is not supposed to know that it is a necessary product of the bourgeois social order; that it cannot fail to be present in a society in which the great masses of the workers are exclusively dependent upon wages, that is to say, on the sum of foodstuffs necessary for their existence and for the propagation of their kind; in which improvements of the existing machinery continually throw masses of workers out of employment; in which violent and regularly recurring industrial vacillations determine on the one hand the existence of a large reserve army of unemployed workers, and on the other hand drive large masses of the workers temporarily unemployed onto the streets; in which the workers are crowded together in masses in the big towns, at a quicker rate than dwellings come into existence for them under existing conditions; in which, therefore, there must always be tenants even for the most infamous pigsties; and in which finally the house owner in his capacity as capitalist has not only the right, but, in view of the competition, to a certain extent also the duty of ruthlessly making as much out of his property in house rent as he possibly can.

In such a society the housing shortage is no accident; it is a necessary institution and it can be abolished together with all its effects on health, etc., only if the whole social order from which it springs is fundamentally refashioned. That, however, bourgeois socialism dare not know. It dare not explain the housing shortage from the existing conditions. And therefore nothing remains for it but to explain the housing shortage by means of moral phrases as the result of the baseness of human beings, as the result of original sin, so to speak. (quotes Dr. Sax) “And here we cannot fail to recognize – and in consequence we cannot deny” (daring conclusion!) – that the responsibility rests partly with the workers themselves, those who want dwellings, and partly, the much greater part it is true, with those who undertake to supply the need, or those who, although they have sufficient means, make no attempt to supply the need, viz., the propertied, higher social classes. The responsibility of these last consists in the fact that they do not make it their business to provide for a sufficient supply of good dwellings.” The Housing Question by Frederick Engels, Part two, How the Bourgeoisie Solves the Housing Question: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1872/housing-question/ch02.htm
From Gerry Downing and Socialist Fight. Brent Housing Action

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