[First published on our website: February 2007]
Brighton & Hove council housing tenants dealt a huge blow to New Labour's rampant privatisation agenda by joining the 104 other local authorities by voting by a massive 77% to stay as council tenants and reject a new private housing association as their landlords.
Brighton Socialist Party members played a key role in persuading the occupiers of the city's 13,500 council homes to vote no in the ballot conducted by the council. The council spent over two million pounds on glossy information and propaganda but failed to obscure the blatant facts exposed by anti-privatisation campaigners - that privatisation means higher rents, loss of secure tenancies, no guarantee of repairs being carried out and the loss of democracy in the way the council housing stock is managed.
The mood of the tenants was clear once the council's propaganda was exposed. People are aware that privatisation means a worse deal for customers, employees and big rewards for the fat cats in charge of the privatised companies. People know that privatisation is a vehicle for the neo-liberal parties and their cronies and they have demanded, as with the NHS campaign, that public resources such as council housing should stay public with direct investment and better democracy brought in to support the run down resources.
The campaign was fought on the doorsteps of Brighton & Hove, with our dedicated supporters visiting tenants to explain what a vote for privatisation would mean for them. Socialist Party members, armed with our ideas and solutions, were welcomed by tenants sick of council propaganda and officials who wouldn't even dare to visit them for fear of the reception they would receive. The cowardly and scaremongering tactics of the council were in contrast to our clear and concise message - giving the tenants the facts about the con of privatisation and showing them that alternative approach was possible. The response was overwhelming and led to the landslide victory.
But tenants are disillusioned with the council as landlords following a systematic running down of homes with repairs not carried out and promises broken. However, they are aware that social housing is a key asset won by the working class and will fight to maintain it. And this fight will go on as the Labour-led council, in alliance with the Tory councillors, will continue to try to force through the privatisation by whatever means necessary.
With this result it provides a platform for the anti-privatisation movement to go further and demand the Forth Option - the direct funding of council housing by central government. And with the upcoming local elections it proves only to highlight the need for proper working class representation. The three main parties, and the Greens, have been proven to be unable to stand up for the working class of the city, and we can use this opportunity to raise the need for a Campaign for a New Workers' Party showing that socialist ideas provide the only answer to the attacks of the neo-liberal parties.
If you would like more information about us and the Defend Council Housing campaign, come along to one of our activities and get in touch.