SQUASH NewsRound: June – July 2013

The NewsRound is be a monthly post, keeping tabs on articles being posted in MainStream Media (MSM) sources, as well as independent channels (eg IMC, SchNEWS) about squatting, the new law (s.144) and possible new legislation (eg commercial). If you spot any articles of interest, please let us know by emailing: info@squashcampaign.org. Disclaimer: All views expressed in this blog are that of the compiler and not necessarily that of SQUASH.

Dedicated to: murdered housing activist Nkululeko Gwala, assassinated on 26th June 2013 by the neo-liberal South African government and its cronies to silence his dissent and cover up its corruption. We will not be silenced….  <Read more here>

Evictions and Eviction Alerts

1] EVICTED: Rushcroft Road, Brixton

Bailiff brutality

Six blocks of flats and 75 occupiers on Rushcroft Road, Brixton were violently evicted by the Met-for-hire and bailiffs on Tuesday 15th July at the behest of Lambeth Council. Local residents came down to support the squatters against the eviction but the resistance was outnumbered by the heavy-handed thugs, who smashed in doors, assaulted those supporting the resistance and generally swanned about being smug wankers. There are a number of good reports, pictures and links from our Media, such as “Eviction resistance @ Rushcroft Road” [IMC UK, 15 July 2013] and the Brixton Buzz’s “Photo report – Police and High Court Enforcement Officers evict Rushcroft Road squats in Brixton, Monday 15th July 2013. Other articles include that from the liberati blog for Brixton, the Brixton Blog’s “Bailiffs and police arrive to evict Rushcroft Road squatters in Brixton”, while squat-hating Evil Standard screams “Violence erupts as bailiffs storm in to kick out Brixton squatters “ [Evening Standard, 16 July 2013]; surprisingly, both articles have quotes and interviews from local residents, housing activists and others rather than just trotting out the same old shite from the same old people (eg the council, the police, the landlord, etc, etc). However, the real atrocity of the eviction was not covered by any mainstream media, which chose to focus on burning bins instead of police and bailiff brutality; here blogger Izzy Koksal’s “Rushcroft Road Eviction Resistance” [IMC UK (Repost), 18 July] reflects on the horrific and dark events during the eviction. Even as the eviction and resistance was happening, Foxton’s had already put the flats up for sale at almost half-a-million pounds each (tasty commission on that I’ll say) “4 Bedroom Flat for Sale, only £475,000 with Foxtons” , no doubt aimed at the “affordable” market (that is if daddy’s looking for a little investment opportunity). Meanwhile the anti-co-operative Lambeth council said that the “estimated £5.5 million raised by selling the flats will be invested in projects across the borough, including new schools, town centres and housing.” (yeah right, more like bungs for the boys). Time to put a stop to this shit: network, organise, expose, resist!

2] EVICTION ALERT: Grow Heathrow, Sipson

Grow Heathrow

Even though Grow Heathrow, a squatted garden centre on the edge of the village of Sipson, in the middle of suburban sprawl around noisy Heathrow Airport, has become a thriving community, social space and organic farm, the Law has seen fit to grant Mr Malik, who doesn’t live in England, a possession order to get his land back so it can become an eyesore in the community once more. Although the Grow Heathrow mob have decided to challenge the decision on the grounds of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ie right to family life), the chances are Mr Malik’s goons will be round soon to smash up this much-loved project (keep posted and see how you can help by visiting Transition Heathrow’s website).  The Court of Appeal judgement has been covered by two of Britain’s finest organs of popular misinformation, the Daily Fail and the Torygraph: “Squatters evicted from land where they were living despite having support of neighbours and judge saying they were ‘not all bad’” [Daily Mail, 4 July 2013] and “Englishman’s home no longer his castle, says senior judge” [The Telegraph, 3 July 2013]. Both articles, in classic churnalism, cover the same ground: how human rights legislation is destroying great British myth of the “Englishman’s home is his castle”, and how the judges, though impressed with these “good” squatters, would not let that get in the way of allowing private owners leave their properties to rot.

What many have noticed in these articles is an attempt by the media (yet again) to divide squatters into “good” and “bad”; what does this mean, are there any definitions for these categories, wtf are they talking about? As usual, it’s the rather vague and divisive technique of “genuine homeless vs lifestyle squatters ; deserving vs undeserving poor ; violent vs non-violent protestors etc, etc”, even though no such divisions exist in the real world, the media obviously finds them useful fulfilling their agendas; for example many people are sympathetic to squatted social centres, well-spoken squatters or have sons/ daughters/friends who squat (they are “good”) while foreign and underclass squatters, squat parties and (god forbid!) “political” squatters are “bad” and  easily vilified to the Middle England mindset. But much like the terms “residential” or “trespass with intention to live” in s144 LASPO, the terms are woolly and vague, intentionally left without substance so that they can be used and abused, at will and without restraint, by the abusers in this country: the landlords, media, politicians, police, etc.

YUPPIES OUT! Anti-Gentrification Demo in Brixton

Yuppies out

An excellent event was held a few days before the eviction of Rushcroft Road at the nearby Windrush Square in Brixton on Saturday 6th July. The gathering of local people, housing activists and passers-by (and a few uncovers judging by the box-fresh trainers) was a chilled and jubilant occasion with speakers from Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth, SQUASH, a housing co-operative, and some inspiring local firebrands, including a kid of about 10 who made some “radicals” look positively liberal. At one point the congregation moved over to the Foxtons across the road and occupied it temporarily to chants of “Yuppies Out!” and “Fuck off back to Chelsea”, and a little later, had a walk-through Brixton Villaaage reminding the munching trendoids that Brixton is not for sale. Although comments like “You’re twenty years too late” were heard (better late than never), this is probably the most fun Brixton’s seen since the Riots.  Local blogger Izzy Koksal’s “Brixton Foxton’s occupation” [Izzy Koksal, 6th July] is about the only written piece on the event, there are some great pics on Mike Urban’s piece “Eviction Brixton rally in Windrush Square: Rushcroft Road community fights for the right to stay” [Brixton Buzz, 6th July]. A great day followed by a devastating blow with the eviction of Rushcroft Road.

SQUASH at the “People’s” Assembly

On the 22nd June, the Unite union organised the “People’s Assembly”, conference in Westminster about how to deal with, and resist, the austerity crisis. Unlike a proper People’s Assembly, which involves an open, transparent and democratic forum for people to voice their ideas and work out a way forward, Britain’s biggest union had already worked out their “People’s Charter” before the Assembly even took place. In classic authoritarian-socialist-stylee, Unite paints itself as working on radical solutions through radical action while herding its fee-paying members off a cliff into the abyss of Business-As-Usual (or something like that). Nevertheless, SQUASH, DIGS and Eviction Resistance came down to speak at the conference in the hope of encouraging people to take the bull(shit) by the horns. Our intrepid reporter on the scene had this to say about the event:

“SQUASH took part in a panel on the housing crisis at the People’s Assembly, a gathering of around 4000 people fighting austerity. Other panelists included a Green Party councillor, a bedroom tax campaigner, a housing lawyer and a private tenants’ campaigner. SQUASH was keen that the criminalisation of squatting was seen in this broader context of the attack on the ability of the poor to house themselves decently. It is the same logic, which places profit before people, that is producing the criminalisation of the homeless and the crisis of spiraling rents and community displacement. In the stuffy grandeur of Westminster City Hall, thousands of lefties young and old (although predominantly old), gathered to consider the future of lefty-ism in Britain. We booed the Tories, cheered the calls to action, and agreed that Something Must Be Done. But while there were some truly inspiring words from some of the activists on stage (calling on us to organise “street by street” against the housing crisis), we could certainly have done without the SWP banners that greeted every arrival onto the street. I couldn’t help feeling that the majority of the audience thought they’d done their shifts on the barricades a few decades ago, and the generational imbalance was reflected in the issues that really aroused passions: while the (predominantly) younger people on stage talked squatting, private tenants, and eviction resistance, questions from the floor focused heavily on the position of social tenants. Since the majority of those under 40 will never get a sniff of social housing, any attempts to build a movement against the housing crisis must be rooted in a cross-tenure approach which opposes eviction and displacement of everyone, from social tenants to squatters. And to build a truly broad-based movement, the People’s Assembly would do well to ponder the absence of youth and colour in its audience, and to think about how we make a solidarity politics relevant now. Start by losing the banners and the tired pamphlets.”

Ouch….however, if you’re part of a housing group and want to know more about linking across tenures in interesting and innovative ways, get in touch with the London Housing Network.

In the Eye of the (Media) Storm

Barnet squat

“Squatters take over cafe on verge of re-opening in Scratchwood Open Space off Barnet Way” [thisislocallondon, 19 July] : From the London borough that brought you the Occupied Library, Barnet is back at it, with some of its locals squatting a derelict building in the country park to make it into an eco-centre. Of course landlord scumbag Mukesh Hirani (of Exact Homes Ltd, ie letting agent) claims the building was about to be opened as an “impressive” cafe and the squatters were preventing it from going ahead, while scuzzbag Councillor Hugh Rayner branded the squatters “mindless individuals […] playing loud music and toileting where they wish” in contradiction to local resident Darren who says, “The squatters are doing no harm.” Same old shit, different day; good luck Barnet crew.

“Justice chief could widen anti-squatting laws to business premises” [Ham&High, 23rd July] : Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, looking like a right paedo in the article photo, trumpets out the same sit-on-the-fence-but-ready-to-criminalise bollocks to Ham&High we’ve been hearing for the past few months. SQUASH know that the process to criminalise squatting commercial premises is already far advanced behind closed doors and this is just another attempt to make it look like MP’s and ministers are “concerned” and following due process. Don’t be fooled by all this crap; write to your MP and tell them straight that you don’t want squatting criminalised further.

Roma

Met police undertook a dawn raid on 19 July against the Marble Arch Roma encampment in London’s high-class Park Lane district, assisted by immigration officers and staff from the Romanian Embassy. Some seventy people, including children, had been sleeping in the open under blankets and plastic, were forcibly removed from the area, and Marble Arch secured by fencing and private security. For more read “Where Am I To Go? London Roma Evicted” [IMC UK, 20th July]. A march in solidarity with the Roma eviction has been organised for 6.30 pm on Friday, 2 August, outside the French Embassy, 58 Knightsbridge Road, SW1X 7JT (Knightsbridge Tube), and to find more about the Roma cause visit romanationday.org/

“Live in a stately home – just don’t get too settled in” [Guardian, 22 July] : In the early days, guardian companies were the darlings of the British press, with articles singing their praises, painted as modern, creative living for key workers and artists; instead they have turned out to be over-occupied paid-for prisons, housing “emergent service providers” and making a mint for the companies involved (cushty!). Now finally, the press have decided that maybe this might be a little unfair and started sniffing around for horror stories; so far the Guardian has published this little ditty, which has interviews with guardians, the companies involved, local council officials (gizza bung mate), lawyers and SQUASH (fuck yeah!); the article highlights the increasing precarity of tenure while setting the whole thing in a rosey tint of loved-up guardians and exciting living opportunities. There is no doubt guardians need to get organised and start whistleblowing/ striking/ occupying/ taking this to court; if you need help with this, contact SQUASH or a private-rented sector group for advice.

Squat Media

Video

This is a beautifully shot, well-produced, 5-minute piece about squatting commercial premises, the privatisation of space and precarious living, featuring the legend Pete the Temp. Visit the “England Your England” website  or use the embedded player below:

Research

Two really great resources have come on tap in the last few months:

1] Squatting in Europe: Radical Spaces, Urban Struggles [Minor Compositions, 2013]: a 280-page collection of 10 squatting articles from and about the European experience; looks like good, meaty and fascinating read.

2] ETC Dee: a collection of papers, books, drafts and conference presentations/ talks on squatting, most with respect the situation in England and Wales. This is a real resource. (Watch out for the F*ckbook boobytrap that stops you getting in; just repost the link in another tab and you should be fine).

Magazines

Nervemeter latest edition

New homeless paper, Nervemeter is a brilliant breath of fresh air after the stagnant monopoly of the Big Issue, which screws over the homeless (giving them less per copy sold than ever before), the reader (with trivial, celebrity-obsessed, sanitised content) and “social” investees (high loan interest rates, corporate charity investments). Nervemeter is donation based (£3 suggested), gives all money to sellers and is a stonking read which doesn’t shy away from the issues of homelessness, mental health and housing. Find a vendor on the streets and buy one, and go to the Nervemeter website to donate so they can continue with their great work. This publication is fucking brilliant; keep up the good work.

Strike!

Strike! Magazine has been a big supporter of squatting since its inception a handful of issues ago. The latest Summer Edition is no different, with a “Made Possible by Squatting” ad in the back, an article and some graphics slating Weatherley and a number of public responses to the original consultation. Other than that it’s packed full of top contemporary writing and beautiful graphics, and for £1.00, it’s a fucking steal….

Radio:

Part of the Novara Series on Resonance FM with Aaron Peters and James Butler examining the housing crisis in England and Wales; comes highly recommended.

“The Housing Crisis” [Novara, Series 2, Episode 40]

YouTube DIY Tools

Here are two 15 minutes long videos with Spanish and German housing activists speaking about how they campaign and organise locally, which was part of the documentation of Unite Community’s NO eviction workshop in May 2013.

Part I – the Spanish Mortgage Holders Platform (PAH)

Part II – Preventing Forced Evictions, Berlin