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Waltham Forest: Campaigners score a victory
"Next thing you know they'll be prosecuting residents for sticking up 'missing cat' posters on lamp-posts" I joked when Waltham Forest's enforcement officer initially challenged us over the right to campaign in the local town square. Now a local cat owner has actually been fined £75 as part of the council's 'zero tolerance' of 'environmental crime' for exactly that!
Sarah Sachs-Eldridge, Walthamstow Socialist Party secretary
But Socialist Party members in Waltham Forest have scored a victory against the council's outrageous attempts to clamp down on campaigning. On Saturday 6 February 20 members of the Socialist Party and eight tables showed that we will not be silenced!
This followed three members of Walthamstow Socialist Party receiving letters threatening a £500 fine for setting up a campaigning stall in the place we have done them in for 20 years.
Every person who stopped to sign a petition or to buy a copy of the Socialist newspaper was horrified when we explained the reason for our 'mass stall'. One local campaigner expressed support and told her own story which highlights the gross hypocrisy of the council.
Residents tried to organise a campaign to get the fruit and vegetable waste from the market composted rather than sent to pollute the earth in a poisonous landfill. What was the council's response? To threaten them with action over pinning notices on trees!
Campaigning against the war in Afghanistan, against cuts at Waltham Forest College, in solidarity with striking Turkish workers, for investment in job creation programmes, for democratic rights in Sri Lanka, and for a public inquiry into the wasteful privatisation schemes of our rotten council, kept activists busy.
While most people were happy to speak to us and supported our stand to defend free speech the council officers kept their distance. Yellow high-visibility jacket-wearing officers were present in the square but they did not approach any of the campaigners. The bullying and aggressive methods we had previously experienced were kept in check by our show of strength.
We are having difficulty establishing the details of the case against us. The enforcement officer's letters quote a 1906 by-law. When we questioned why the council was acting on this now, a council spokesperson told the Waltham Forest Guardian that: "the by-law has always been enforced, but until recently there have not been enough enforcement officers working at the weekends to catch people breaking it."
The spokesperson also said: "Any person or group wishing to operate in these areas needs to have the correct permission, in the form of a signed agreement, and have paid the appropriate fee."
But so far no one at the council has been able to tell us who we need to speak to about this and it appears they have never even been asked for a permit for a campaigning stall before.
Socialist Party activists will not stop here. We demand the council recognises our right to campaign, but we are also calling for adequate public notice boards and public meeting rooms to be run by and for the local labour movement and activists and no harassment of campaigners.
We also call for the council to 'open the books', for the right of recall of all councillors and crucially for a reversal of all privatisation schemes. We have shown we will not be pushed off the streets. We are determined to fight alongside working class people in Waltham Forest to defend jobs and services.
In The Socialist 10 February 2010:
Unison general secretary election
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news
Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition
PCS young members
Socialist Party feature
International socialist news and analysis
War and occupation