From The Notebook, International Socialism, No.32, Spring 1968, pp.4-5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
Ian Macdonald writes: The Greater London Council is Britain’s biggest landlord. There are about 242,000 tenants involved. On 7 December last year, the chairman of the GLC Housing Committee announced the Tories’ new rent scheme. Under the scheme, GLC tenants can expect their rents to increase by 5s in the £ in October 1968, a further 5s in the £ in October 1969, and an extra 4s in 1970. A tenant now paying £4 per week, will be paying £6 16s in 1970, and tenants in some of the newer flats will be paying as much as £10 per week. In addition, lodger charges are to rise, and central heating and car parking will be more expensive.
That is not all. In future, less money is to be spent on repairs, and tenants will have to do their own interior decorating. In this way, the Council hopes to save £850,000 on repairs, and £500,000 on decorating. It also means the sack for some of the Council’s 6,000 electricians, plumbers, carpenters, and other maintenance men.
The GLC have made much of their intended rebate scheme. But the only way to get a rebate will be to go through a means test; no tenant, say the GLC, need disclose his income to the Council unless he is applying for a rebate. In fact, very few of the 240,000 GLC tenants will benefit. Here is an example of a family which will not benefit. The tenant earns £12 per week, and his wife £5. They have a child and a lodger, both over 21, and now pay a rent of £2 16s 8d per week. In 1970, they will pay £4 16s 4d and get no rebate.
The rent increases will bring in an extra £20 million per year. Rent rebates are expected to cost about £6 million. In other words to put rents up by £14 million, they are increased by £20 million and £6 million is returned to a selected few of the tenants. Thus, what measure of welfare for the poorer tenants there is, is paid for by the tenants, not out of taxation or rates collected from the whole community. Like all means test schemes, the main idea is not to establish any fair system of rents but to extract more money from Council tenants. There has never been a rebate scheme without a rent rise, and the GLC one is no exception.
Council tenants are being forced to pay for more than just the homes they live in. Council tenants are the main contributors to the immense profits made out of housing annually. First come the landowners and property speculators, from whom Councils have to buy land. Land which last year cost the GLC £8 million, now costs £1 million more. Between 1961 and 1965, the cost of land per dwelling rose from £450 to £650 (Housing and the GLC, 1967). At present, the London Borough of Islington is in the process of building a large new estate, the Packington Estate. In May 1962, this estate was sold to a property company for £344,285. A year later, the same company sold it to the Council for £582,500, making a profit of £238,215 – for which Islington tenants will have to pay. After the property owners come the large construction companies which build the flats for the Councils. Laings (£1.6m in 1966), Wimpey (£11.3m), Taylor Woodrow (£4.5m), and Costain (£3.6m) all do well out of Council house building. Thus, it needs little explanation for the fact that the average cost of building GLC housing has risen from £3,230 per dwelling in 1961 to £4,600 in 1965 (ibid.). But the largest share goes to the money lenders who provide the credit for Councils to build. For every £1 borrowed, £4 has to be repaid. Each year, the money lenders take a larger and larger proportion of the rent tenants pay. In 1965-6, they took 13s 8d in every £ of rent paid; in 1966-7, 14s 5d, and in 1967-8, it will be 15s 5d. By 1970, if rents remain at their present level, every £1 rent will be paid to the money lenders, and more. Total rents received will be £34.8m, and to it must be added £1.2m to make up the full interest payment.
Instead of directly attacking this problem, the GLC and the Government talk rubbish about ‘well-off Council tenants’ being subsidised. In fact, every penny that is contributed to housing out of rates or from the Government goes straight into the pockets of the money lenders, landowners and builders. If this element were removed, Council rents would be cut to less than a quarter of their present levels without anything coming from the ratepayers or the Government.
Reaction to the new proposals on all GLC estates has been the same – anger and rejection. The increases are, for many tenants, the last straw, coming on top of severe wage restraint, rising prices, and now, cuts in the social services. A GLC Action Committee has been created and has started distributing leaflets on every GLC estate. Tenants are being encouraged to join existing tenants’ associations, or form new ones where there are none, and to involve their trade unions in the fight. However, some of the existing community associations have no other function than to foster good relations between tenants and Council – via bingo and socials. These are a hindrance in the fight against the increases. Meanwhile, the Labour Party has issued an abject little leaflet headed, GLC rents. You were warned! It tells tenants, ‘The Labour Party is your only hope. Only through the Party can you make your anger effective.’ Yet the Labour Government does nothing. Only the tenants can ultimately stop the increases. No reliance
can be placed on other people to conduct the struggle for them. In particular, no reliance can be placed on the Labour Party, whose representatives have been increasing Council rents up and down the country, and whose Minister of Housing approves of rent rises and means-test rebate schemes. The help of individual Labour councillors and MPs might be useful, but they have no right to tell the tenants how to fight, or to try to substitute themselves for the tenants. Already, Mrs Evelyn Dennington, Labour’s GLC spokesman, has appealed to tenants not to organise rent strikes – ‘They can only bring untold misery to people and do not achieve victory in the end,’ she told the Evening Standard (7 December 1967). Labour party policy is obviously designed to deprive tenants of the only effective weapon which they have – withholding their rent.
It is true that badly organised or isolated rent strikes are usually defeated. But where the tenants are properly organised and show determination, they have in the past succeeded. In Glasgow in 1915, the strike was completely successful. In 1938-9, there were over 30 strikes in the East End of London demanding cuts in rents. All were successful. In 1939, 50,000 Birmingham municipal tenants defeated a differential rent scheme similar to the present GLC scheme after a 10-week strike. In the 1950s, Luton tenants managed to defeat a similar scheme. The GLC tenants can do the same, but there is no doubt that the battle will be tougher than anything in the past, since the Government’s whole prices and incomes policy is at stake.
Last updated on 18.6.2008