Tag Archives: squatting

The Police, Squat Evictions and Housing Precarity

12 May

A little while ago, I wrote a piece about squatting and the abuse that bailiffs and police commit against squatters which is now on the New Left Project. Please take a read of it here and maybe even ‘like’ it on facebook and share on twitter 🙂

I wrote the piece because I was angry at all the shit that my friends would tell me that they experienced, on a regular basis, as they attempted to house themselves – bailiffs stealing their possessions as they evicted them, owners sending round heavies, police breaking in through the roof. I wanted to show how this is one aspect of the violence that is the housing crisis. 

Since writing this article, there’s been another illegal squat eviction of Hampstead police station by the police, and an attempted illegal eviction by the police of squatters in the Hackney police station – this time, squatters managed to sneak back in when the coppers tried to get them out. Then, a bunch of builders turned up at one attempted squat eviction and, with police present, reversed into one of the squatters before driving off. The police ‘pursued’ them but didn’t catch them, and then refused to investigate the case. 

Interesting articles and actions

14 Mar

I’ve got a small collection of some infuriating, some exciting articles/links that I’ve come across recently. I’ve tweeted them out enthusiastically, but I think they deserve a bit more attention so I thought I’d have a go at putting them together in a blog post.

Firstly there’s the vile Hammersmith and Fulham council who have used the Localism Act 2011 to narrow the already incredibly restrictive criteria for accessing social housing. Here Hammersmith and Fulham state that those who ‘have given something back to the community’ will be prioritised – showing how workfare is creeping into housing policy as people are forced to ‘volunteer’ in order to access housing instead of housing being allocated according to need. The situation at the moment already means that people are not getting housing to meet their needs – the criteria to access social housing is already very narrow and local councils have all sorts of gate keeping techniques to stop people who are eligible from accessing it. London Coalition Against Poverty has done a lot of great work supporting people getting their homelessness rights (read their pamphlet here) and will be looking into local councils in London to find out what their new policies are with plans for action around this.

On the subject of housing, there has been another protest occupation of a council owned residential property that Camden council were selling off. The protest by Camden Housing Action Group was against the sell-off of council housing and social cleansing, and against the law that criminalises squatting residential buildings. Two people in the protest occupation were arrested under section 144 that criminalises living or intending to live in an abandoned residential property. The court case should be interesting as it was clearly a protest occupation with no one living or intending to live there. Section 144 criminalises homeless people. Here it is being used to criminalise people taking direct action on the housing crisis. Challenges like this – using abandoned residential building for protest occupations, social centres etc – to the law are really important to make this law impossible to enforce. ‘Empty houses, homeless people, that is what should be illegal!’ The two will be in court on Friday 28th March – show them your support on Twitter, facebook etc.

Yet more inspiring housing action – the Focus E15 mums are fighting for their right to secure social housing in the home borough of Newham. Kate Belgrave has been following the women’s’ campaign and Johnny Void has written a good article on them too.  

Crowbar Sisterhood published their March newsletter with lots of really cool events in the making. “Crowbar Sisterhood is an inclusive group for all current/former/wannabe squatters who identify as women, including transgender women, and AFAB (assigned female at birth) genderqueer/non-binary trans people who feel a connection to women’s communities.”

The Empty Cages Collective is a newly formed group in Bristol made up of people who have been directly affected by the prison-industrial complex and who have been in prison-related struggles and support. They have called for a year of action and organising against the prison-industrial complex and have organised a Tear Down the Walls speaker tour to help kick this off.  Keep your eyes on their website for future events and texts on the prison industrial complex and abolition in the UK.

I love this collection of refusal of work cultural artefacts collected by Novara Media. It’s a shame that the majority of these expressions against work also have shit gender politics – the exception being the absolutely awesome Dolly Parton and Co. in 9 to 5 whose militant anti-work and feminist politics sees them lassoing their boss and taking over the workplace.

There’s the Boycott Workfare week of action (29 March to 6 April) against the new Community Work Placement scheme which is due to start on 1 April, forcing people to work unpaid for 6 months or else face losing subsistence benefits.  There’s loads of suggestions for local actions on the blog and Boycott Workfare can offer support with promotion, stickers, and leaflets. Workfare providers like Seetec have complained that they’re struggling to find workfare placements because of all the actions people are taking. Let’s make sure that this latest and longest scheme completely collapses.

Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth are celebrating their first birthday this April. There will be details of a social event on their website soon so if you’re south London based and angry at high rents, benefit cuts, gentrification and more come along and meet the group and have cake.

I think that’s everything. I just stumbled upon this Hackney isn’t crap anti-gentrification walking tour from 2008 which I’ve bookmarked for later. 

Tonnes of housing action stuff

14 Nov
Image

Detail from a decorated door that was left outside the occupation of the Southwark council house

Next week at 195 Mare street social centre in Hackney, there’s a Free School running with workshops, films, and discussions. Each day has a different theme with housing/homelessness/benefits, Do It Yourself day, queer-feminism, and art. The timetable for the week looks amazing – incredibly varied and full (there’s a talk on ‘Defence Against the Dark Arts’, I’m excited about raw cooking cos I had my first raw cake a couple of months back and it was mind blowing).

Thursday 21st is housing/homelessness/benefits day with a jam-packed schedule ranging from advice and support sessions, talks with local housing action groups, and a lock and barricade workshop at 3.30pm, with the day finishing up with some kick boxing. I’m super excited about the day as it looks like a great chance for people to come together, make links, share info, learn practical skills, and plan more projects around welfare and housing action. I’m excited by the whole week as there is so much interesting stuff on. Don’t miss it!

Other exciting housing things include:

The visit this week by members of Abahlali baseMjondolo and their inspiring piece in the Guardian.

Space Hijacker’s FOXtons HUNT this Saturday meeting at 2pm outside the pub at London Fields.

Lambeth protest at the town hall 6pm Wednesday 20th on housing, education, and welfare cuts.

Numerous successful challenges to the residential squatting ban including Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth’s occupation of a council house which was being sold off which attracted national media attention and massive support, including home baked cake.

Talks about future housing actions across London.

My mate’s housing based tweets from her Berlin visit and a promised article on it.

And beyond housing and linked in with housing, there is loads of inspiring stuff going on – including the 3 Cosas campaign, London Campaign Against Police and State Violence, South London Anti-Fascists, the Week of Action Against Sanctions and Workfare.

See you on the streets (and in the squats)!

Colorama 2 film

15 Sep

Last night, at the Colorama 2 takeover of the Made Possible By Squatting exhibition, there was the first film screening of a film made by a Colorama 2 squatter. Shot over the 6 months in which Colorama 2 was lived in by the C2 crew the film beautifully captured communal life in the old photography factory. It really is something really special to watch – perhaps partly because the space and the people were familiar to me (this was the first ever squat I’d got to know well), but mostly because all the shots were beautiful, often hilarious, moments of squatted communal life in Elephant and Castle. Hopefully it’ll be put up online for others to enjoy or coming to a squatted space near you soon. 

Justice for Jola and the struggle for housing in Warsaw

17 Mar

IMAG0558

At Self-Organised London, an anti-gentrification and housing rights social centre, two pensioners and two younger members of the Syrena collective from Warsaw, shared their story of their struggle for public housing. They spoke with fire and anger telling a story that was all too familiar to those of us sitting in the Elephant and Castle social centre – a story of corrupt developers, complicit local councils, a law working against us, and the violence that is at the core of commodified housing. Despite not sharing a common language, as the women spoke we could feel and understand what they were saying. The talk was impassioned and inspiring and we left with plans to show solidarity to our friends in Poland fighting this common struggle and to support the European convergence of housing rights activists that the collective have organised for 12-14th April in Warsaw.

Jola Brzeska

Wanda and Ewa came to highlight the story of their friend, Jola Brzeska, who was burnt to death because of the threat she posed to developers as a tenants rights activist. Her body was found in a forest on the outskirts of Warsaw on March 1 2011. Two years later, her death remains ‘unsolved’. The police have failed to investigate her murder; they did not take fingerprints from her apartment where she was kidnapped nor did they investigate tyre tracks in the forest where she was killed. Police have claimed that a witness who saw the moment of the kidnapping withdrew their statement. Instead, Jola’s friends are taking up the struggle for justice for Jola. “We are trying to do anything to be loud about the case and get justice for Jola.”

As explains, “I have my own theory about Jola’s death – we had the same enemy, the same people throwing us out of our apartments. We were leading our investigation to find out who were taking our houses. She came up with too much knowledge and trusted the authorities that she shouldn’t have.”

Jola had been defending her home from developers and had been supporting others too, joining their struggles together by co-founding the Warsaw Tenant’s Association. Jola had spent the last years of her life studying the law to defend the rights of elderly tenants and others who were under threat of losing their homes. “Jola never missed any demo, direct action, hunger strike, she gave all her heart to support the people, she fought till the end.”

Background: Re-privatization of homes in Poland

Her case reflects the issues connected to the pathology of what is happening in housing in Warsaw, the rest of Poland, and the UK.”

Today, 97% of houses in Warsaw have been re-privatised. Syrena used the term re-privatised because before the Second World War, most of the housing had been private. After the war thousands if not millions of people rebuilt the city with their own hands. “Warsaw is a city built by the squatters basically.” These houses became public housing with tenants renting them from the local authorities. As one system of domination replaced the other, the onset of capitalism saw the mass sell-off of public housing to private developers. There is no law to regulate the private sector and so developers can speculate unhindered creating a housing monopoly. Now council housing stands at just 11% of all housing stock; there has been no new council housing for many years.

The developers buy up titles such as “prince”; “so the developer of our apartment is a ‘prince’, I call him ‘our prince’ because he owns us.” Groups of specialised bandits operate on behalf of the developers to evict tenants from their homes. “We have no chance when we are meeting these groups – the corruption runs through the police and judges. We cannot rely on the law to be on our side.”

Developers purchase these public apartments at rock bottom prices from the local authorities, the developers then claim money back from these same authorities for the period during which they were re-constructing the properties.

As well as the privatization of housing, squares and parks across the city are also being enclosed.

Housing hunger

There is a housing hunger. A hunger that is political rather than natural.”

There are no statistics but Jola was not the only person who was killed because of this process.”

We are strong women, other people who cannot take it and commit suicide or get very sick. Personal space so important on this earth, losing it is a death sentence.”

Pensioners and other tenants are being forcefully evicted from their homes without the right to social housing. There is no social housing for them to move into (there is a waiting list of 10 years) and so they are told to rent in the private sector. For many people, they simply cannot afford the rents of the private sector. Old people cannot access credit to get a home and so eviction is a “death sentence”.

Evictions were banned during the winter period between December and April because of the extreme cold however this law has recently been changed so that people can be evicted at any time. They are told to stay in bed and breakfasts or in metal containers which charge £10 a night.

We watch a video clip of one eviction in Lodz, 100km from Warsaw, in which two parents threaten to commit suicide as the bailiffs arrive. In response the police send in 100 anti-terror police to ‘deal’ with the situation. Another video clip shows an old woman with her cat who are being evicted:

“what the authorities want me to do is jump out of the window along with my cat”.

The issue of privatised/commodified housing is not just the subsequent loss of public housing but the distribution of housing. There are hundreds of empty buildings across Warsaw as people face living on the streets or in metal containers. If the authorities had the political will, they could deal with this artificial housing crisis “within a month…but authorities are like companies, they are only interested in making money.”

“No one cares what will happen to people. No one cares that we were the ones who built the place and have taken care of the building for all these years.”

Warsaw housing struggles – “You cannot burn us all”

Jola was saying we should do something – people were calling us hooligans but now people are taking us more seriously. We are fighting for housing and for dignity of people…Not to get dignity but to fight back, because we are all born with dignity.”

Warsaw tenants have been defending their homes against the bailiffs, police, and developers and whoever else attempts to threaten their basic human right. With corruption across all authorities, and first hand experience that working within the system will get us nowhere, people are taking direct action for themselves and each other. People are squatting buildings across the city; this is becoming normalised rather than a ‘sub cultural’ thing. The older generation have been “far more radical than young people – red and black and all that – more radical in resisting the authorities than the young people.” However, young people are now getting on board and supporting in resisting evictions.

Tenants groups comprise of people struggling for their homes learning together to provide legal advice and support for each other, and through this process empowering each other.

Groups of tenants and squatters have also taken back buildings symbolically to show that “it is not for the authorities to change something – we are the change”. On International Tenants Day people reclaimed a 19th century building.

The struggle continues more radicalised as a result of Jola’s death. “They cannot burn us all, like they burned Jola, that is our slogan ‘you cannot burn us all’”.

UK solidarity & struggle

Suggestions of how we can show solidarity with seeking justice for Jola and the struggle for the right to housing in Warsaw were highlighted. Raising attention at the Polish embassy in London, writing articles together about our shared housing struggles in London and Warsaw, and making direct links with each other, through the forthcoming housing rights convergence. Through actions such as these, we can learn from each other and together and strengthen our struggle for our homes.

A proposal to hold a demonstration outside the Polish embassy a week before the Warsaw convergence in order to highlight Jola’s murder and to raise awareness about the convergence received lots of energy. Get in touch to help make it happen or watch this space for further info.

Fight back for housing in Europe!