The Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) is on record, in deed as well as in word, as fighting for the interests of those workers living in the council housing now under attack in the wake of monopoly capitalism’s latest, and perhaps terminal, crisis.
First there was the declaration in 2000, by Labour’s then deputy premier John Prescott, that council housing would be demolished by 2010 – which activists who would go on to help form the CPGB-ML were involved in battling, usually successfully. That something resembling council housing still exists is the result of a mass campaign involving tenants, local authority trade unionists and the odd communist here and there.
Then there was the emergence of Arms Length Management Organisations (ALMOs), the thinly disguised semi-privatisation of council housing. Again, CPGB-ML comrades were there, fighting back alongside others to return council housing fully to the public sector.
Now we find that the ruling class wants to abolish the right to a lifetime tenancy. What can tenants now expect? Five years of relative housing security, 10 years, who knows? As before, CPGB-ML comrades will be there when the fight around this erupts – as it certainly will.
But, looking backwards a bit, we leave the question of council housing to our party Congress which, when it met in June of this year, unanimously called for “a united campaign by tenants, council-worker trade unionists and councillors themselves aimed at forcing central government to provide funds for the construction of tens of thousands of new council homes”.
In the present climate, those tens of thousands should probably morph into hundreds of thousands.
Of course, not all working-class people live in council housing. Far from it.
Every morning on BBC Breakfast, we hear of ‘property values’, the cost of buying a house, which – more than in any other country in Europe – determines the overall statistical health of Britain’s capitalist economy. For young, working-class people, buying a house (getting their foot on the so-called ‘property ladder’) is crucial if they can’t get on the council housing list. And it’s relatively cheap at the moment.
By contrast, those people who are already ‘homeowners’ – workers and others who will essentially be renting from the banks, rather than from a private landlord, for a further 25 years – are suffering with the current decline in house ‘values’. Any attempt to sell their houses would leave them worse off.
Of course, this fiddling about with ‘property values’ is mere legalised gambling. The real value of any given ‘property’ is invariable, except for its depreciation. The value of a house (no matter who lives in it) is that of the bricks, mortar and labour that went into constructing it in the first place. That the nature of a privately-owned house is portrayed differently is merely a symptom of the casino economy accompanying our moribund monopoly-capitalist system. We even have to suffer house-buying programmes on the telly every morning, thanks to the BBC.
But there is a third element to the housing question as it stands in early 21st-century Britain. Something approaching 32 percent of working-class people are housed in the private rental sector, sometimes paying up to a half of their income for the basic human right to have a roof over their heads.
And it is here that the recently announced cut in housing benefit comes into play. We hear that the current Tory-Lib Dem government, following in the footsteps of its Labour predecessors, doesn’t much like giving benefits to private renters – particularly those currently without a job.
“It’s not right,” says the Department of Work and Pensions, “that some families on benefits are able to live in homes that hard-working families could not afford”.
Great idea! Let’s blame unemployed workers for their unemployment. Meanwhile, whether workers are seen by the bourgeoisie as hard-working or not, their housing benefit is likely to be limited to between £265 and £290 a week for a family of four, beginning next year.
This would possibly allow people to just about survive in some rural areas, but try living – and looking for a job – in London, Birmingham or Manchester with that sort of ‘support’ for your rent.
As usual, the ruling class is trying to unload the burden of its systemic crisis onto the shoulders of the workers whose labour power allows their very existence to continue. We must fight back, and fight back now! Down with capitalism and its crises; forward to socialism!