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Butterfields victory: housing crisis can be beaten
Sarah Wrack, Waltham Forest Socialist Party
When we organise and fight back, we can win. That's the lesson of the Butterfields Won't Budge campaign.
When the east London tenants first met at a street meeting on a cold and wet February morning, they agreed to set out with one aim- to stay in their homes. And now it seems that's exactly what they've achieved.
On 8 October it was announced that a deal has been agreed, subject to contract, for Dolphin Living Trust to buy the 49 flats on the Butterfields estate which are still tenanted. This comes ten months after 63 families were first told that their homes had been sold and their new landlord wanted them out.
Unfortunately 13 have moved under the pressure of the threatened evictions and one disabled pensioner sadly died recently. But the evictions will now cease, along with all court proceedings, and all remaining tenants will be able to stay in their homes.
"Thank you to all involved for making us realise we were not powerless to resist" Adrienne, treasurer of the tenants association, wrote on the campaign's Facebook page on behalf of the tenants. As news spread around the estate and supporters, the mood was ecstatic and emotional. "People really can change things" more than one resident remarked.
They all talked of a weight lifted from their shoulders, many saying they had been increasingly worried, with Christmas approaching, of the insecurity hanging over them. All expressed huge gratitude to the Socialist Party for the unwavering support and guidance offered from the start.
Bucking the trend
We spent the day discussing how we'd got here. Many people commented on how the experience at Butterfields is completely counter to the general trend in housing at the moment.
More than a million people are waiting for council homes. Every week there are new stories of people being housed in temporary accommodation miles away from where they're from because of shortages. In the private rented sector people live in fear of eviction and the average Londoner spends two thirds of their income on rent.
In this context the Butterfields victory is huge. Its lessons must be learnt in every area and every housing campaign. At the heart of the tactics of the campaign was a simple message from tenants - "we're not moving".
This was backed up with successfully demanding a boycott of the properties by estate agents, disrupting auction sales, covering the estate in posters and banners, getting the support of John McDonnell, fundraising to prepare for legal battles, being ready to resist against bailiffs, a social media campaign which gathered donations and signatures in support, and lots more.
All of the work was organised democratically through the tenants' and residents' association which was set up at the start of the campaign on the suggestion of the Socialist Party. All involved agree this should continue functioning to maintain tenant solidarity in the future.
These tactics, of being firmly organised, of not moving, and of bold public campaigning, should be replicated across the country. Similar issues could be faced by thousands, for example, as the Housing and Planning Act is implemented by councils.
The ideas and experience of the Socialist Party, combined with the bravery and determination of these tenants, who are from many areas of the world and overwhelmingly low paid, have been the key factors in securing this victory. We'll continue working together to ensure the contract is signed as agreed and to organise a party on 25 November. Butterfields Won't Budge!
"The Socialist Party raised our voices"
This is a speech made by Anna Palumbo, a leading tenant in the campaign, at a meeting organised by Waltham Forest Trades Council two days after hearing the news.
Good evening everybody. I know we are all involved in many battles - to protect our jobs, to protect our homes, to ensure our kids' education and future. And I am here tonight to testify that if you fight, you have a chance to win.
We achieved a great victory last week. We won our homes back.
I live in Butterfields, a little estate in Walthamstow, whose flats had been sold by a charity to an aggressive developer, who wanted to resell them as vacants to make the maximum profit.
We faced eviction for ten months. We have been threatened with becoming homeless. But we decided to fight. We decided not to budge.
And our lovely Linda and Nancy Taaffe, together with other amazing members of the Socialist Party, embraced our cause. They helped us organise our battle. They led our marches.
They raised our voices through the media. They wiped out our tears when we lost our hope, encouraging us to hold on together and resist.
They sought and obtained political attention - Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell contacted RBS [the mortgage holder] and the local MP Stella Creasy finalised the deal with Dolphin.
And we won! 49 of 63 flats are now in the process of being sold to Dolphin Living Trust.
We are celebrating our victory together. And I hope we can all celebrate together the victory of many other battles.
In The Socialist 12 October 2016:
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