|Conference-goers overwhelmingly argued for local autonomy|
Inch by painstaking inch, what began in the heads of a few Liverpool activists last November has become a relatively large grassroots movement, with Combat The Bedroom Tax groups sprouting up in neighbourhoods fanning out across Merseyside. For many, going to a political meeting has become a matter of taking a short walk from their homes down the road.
This rapid success can be explained by a combination of two main factors. First, the crying material need which many on Merseyside have to find a way out of their government-imposed bedroom tax misery. Many already just about scraping by on the breadline are now – since 1st April – having to find tens of pounds per week in order to avoid falling into rent arrears. For those already in arrears, the bedroom tax will likely trigger a tipping point which could produce evictions within weeks, not months.
But secondly, grassroots rank and file control has been an essential feature of the movement, dating back to the first mass meeting in mid-January. For many long-standing activists in the area, it has been a breath of fresh air to organise and take action on a mass basis, with no alienating top tables and no long-winded speeches from ‘left’ politicians or trade union officials slumming it for the day. For the large majority of participants with little to no direct political experience, it has already been a hugely empowering experience, with many discovering a sense of hope brought about by taking part of their destiny into their own hands. Despair is turning to constructive anger.
A few weeks back, one long-standing activist proposed a federal structure, the better to co-ordinate various aspects of our collective activity – for instance organising demonstrations such as the one which took place in the city centre last week. A conference was organised at the Unite building on Islington in the city centre, and was publicised in the many local groups.
The eighty or so participants who assembled for the conference yesterday were – almost inevitably – more drawn from the long-standing ‘activist’ background than the neighbourhood meetings are. However, there was still a healthy balance in favour of newcomers, and around half the participants are themselves being hit by the bedroom tax. Anarcho-bastard has given a good summary of the proceedings here.
In addition to what he has written, I would add that a small minority of the long-standing activists present wish to take the bedroom tax movement in a different direction – one with more centralised control, and a large say for trade unions. Ultimately, this would reduce the sense of ownership which local groups feel over their own struggle, and therefore play into the hands of the ruling class, large sections of which are seeking the privatisation of ‘social housing’. The repeated mention of the “West of Scotland Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation” as a model to follow was particularly concerning.
Anyway, a federal motion was put forward, which will debated in local groups over the next couple of weeks. Whatever individuals may want, and whatever agendas they may have, the genie of grassroots, community-based anger is now out of the bottle, and no trade union bureaucrat will be able to force it back in. The stakes are simply too high for that.
As Anarcho-bastard concluded:
“The focus on direct action and direct democracy is very encouraging. It’s vital that tenants retain control of this struggle and don’t allow themselves to be used by parties or unions for their own politicking. Where this movement goes next should be up to the tenants who are affected by the tax. The will to fight is there and soon the tools will be there too.”