Friday, February 24, 2006

SOLIDARITY News Bulletin February 24th 2006
The campaign for the ‘fourth option’ and the right to build council housing

After the rally and parliamentary lobby in support of the ‘fourth option’ (direct investment in Council Housing) attended by 1,300 people, the Labour Party has announced a working group within the National Policy Forum to address the motion passed ‘almost unanimously’ at the Labour conference. Jack Dromey of the TGWU is on the new working group.

However, Ministers want to drag out the discussion until the Treasury Comprehensive Spending Review in 2007. The Defend Council Housing Campaign says that “‘Fourth Option’ supporters are pleased the government is now moving but we’re not prepared to wait that long!”

Speaking at the Labour spring conference DCHC fringe meeting, Jack Dromey said that the working party will look at two things – “greater freedom for councils to improve their housing and for councils to have a role in new build”.

“My view is that the door is open, but it won’t be easy. We can only win by a combination of the power of our arguments and the power of campaigning. We must continue to engage nationally and to campaign for NO votes until we see tenants having a real choice and councils having real freedoms.”

Writing in the Guardian, Helene Mulholland reported that:

“The government has caved in to Labour party demands and agreed to explore ways of increasing investment in council housing without forcing local authorities to relinquish control of their stock.”

‘Caved in’ is, however, too categorical. This could prove to be a time wasting manoeuvre. Moreover, there is an ideological obstacle to the government giving way. The committee is headed by Sir Jeremy Beecham. According to him the party is exploring ways for Councils to invest directly, but keeping it off the “public expenditure books”.

One of the options apparently could be a ‘community trust’ model, whereby the stock would be collectively "owned" by tenants while remaining in council hands. "It is an idea to be explored," he said. If this is some semi-privatisation then it is not direct investment.

The obstacle here is the ‘prudence’ of the Chancellor and his dogma in relation to public spending. He is indulging in crooked book keeping. For instance, whilst Network Rail had to be closed down as a private company listed on the stock market, Brown and Blair refused to re-nationalise the railways because the debt currently held by Network Rail as a company limited by guarantee, and run on a commercial basis, would transfer over to the public purse. However, in reality the company is supported by public money and the government will have to pick up the tab if it went belly-up.

Whilst the campaign for the ‘fourth option’ has largely been based on allowing Councils to bring their stock up to grade without privatising them, it’s high time the emphasis of the campaign shifted to the clear demand that the government end the financial penalties against Councils should they build new Council stock.

The campaign has tactically called the bluff of the government by saying that if tenants are to have a real choice, then it should allow a “level playing field”. However, given the growing housing crisis the question of building new stock is urgent.

In a recent press release the GMB released figures showing that since 2002 the number of households on council waiting lists had jumped by 450,000 to 1,545,509. The statement of GMB Acting Secretary Paul Kenny is welcome.

“GMB has long argued that the only way to reduce the number of household waiting for social housing is to allow local councils to build council housing for rent. GMB also wants to see an end to the policy of moving up social housing rents up to the level of private sector rents.
It is a complete fallacy to expect private house builders to meet the demand for low cost housing. Workers in low paid sectors of the economy need affordable homes in their local areas. The Labour Government must reverse the Tory government’s policy of ending the building of council houses. This demand is increasingly urgent.”

To this should be added an end to the ‘right to buy’ policy which has helped to create the current housing crisis.

For more on the parliamentary lobby go to:

Visit the Defend Council Housing web site at:

You can download a single page printable version of this News Bulletin for circulation, from:

The Israeli Registrar of NPAs drops accusations against WAC

Thanks to the campaign in Israel and international trade union support, the Israeli state has abandoned its attack on the Workers' Advice Center.

We are happy to inform you that thanks to your help and that of many other supporters, and thanks also to the concrete evidence of our work, the Registrar of Non-Profit Associations in Israel has decided to cancel the accusations against WAC-MAAN.

Official notice of this decision was recently given to WAC’s representatives. It is the result of a meeting that took place in January 2006 between WAC, Attorney Ophir Katz representing it, and the Registrar, Attorney Yaron Kedar.

The Registrar’s new decision cancels, in effect, all accusations concerning impropriety in the relationship between WAC and the political party Da’am - ODA. It overturns a ruling from October 2004, which some of you received in the form of a letter from the Ministry of Justice dated October 2005. This ruling ordered the dismantling of WAC on the grounds that it doesn’t operate toward its stated goals, but rather serves as a front for transferring funds to the ODA Political Party.

The Registrar's new decision cancels altogether the eight points concerning improper relationships between WAC and ODA. Furthermore, in his meeting with WAC, the Registrar pointedly complimented WAC, saying, "Nobody wants to stop you from doing your positive work."

Against this background, WAC has reached an arrangement with the Registrar, according to which, during the next few months, an accountant, agreed on by both WAC and the Registrar, will check its books. (See excerpts from the letter of Ophir Katz below.)

WAC sees here the end of a McCarthy-like persecution which began in 2001 at the instigation of the previous Registrar, Amiram Boget, who is known as an extreme right-winger.

We wish to thank you for the support and the solidarity you have shown. We know with certainty that the public backing we received, in Israel and abroad, from labor unions, workers’ organizations, non-profit associations, and many private individuals, both Arab and Jewish, helped to convince the Registrar how important WAC’s work is, creating a positive atmosphere that was vital in bringing matters to a good conclusion.

In order to clarify the legal aspects of the affair, we publish excerpts from the opinion written by WAC’s attorney, Ophir Katz, on February 14, 2006:

1. As will be recalled, the Registrar of NPAs decided, as a sequel to an investigation carried out at the order of his predecessor, to include the NPA in the framework of a “recovery plan” and to appoint an external auditor, putting in his hands complete authority with regard to financial transactions by the NPA, or in other words, the power to determine how the NPA would be managed.

2. The Registrar’s stand had its origin in the finding of an investigator, a finding rejected by the NPA, according to which the NPA does not fulfill its purposes, among other things in the light of his determination that the NPA busies itself in fact with support for a political party.

3. In the Registrar’s decision (from October 2004) a sanction was even established, in case the NPA refused to accept the demand for a “recovery plan” and the additional demands. The sanction was dismantlement of the NPA.

4. The NPA rejected most of the “findings” and the mistaken conclusions that were included in the said report. It announced to the Registrar of NPAs that it does not accept his determinations. The NPA also claimed that it performs only work that is true to its goals and that it refuses to be included within the framework of such a plan, in the light of the fact that its affairs are suitably administered. The NPA also claimed that under the circumstances, the Registrar of NPAs had no pretext for submitting a request to dismantle the NPA.

5. The NPA also announced that it would be happy to cooperate with the Registrar of NPAs and to receive professional help in order to improve the administration of the NPA, if it should be found that there is a need for this.

6. After lengthy discussion and deliberation between the NPA and the office of the Registrar of NPAs, and after heavy public pressure by people and organizations that are acquainted with the NPA’s work and hold it close to their hearts, the Registrar accepted, in fact, the position of the NPA, according to which there is no ground to appoint an external auditor and no ground for his demand to prepare a “recovery plan” for the NPA.

7. In an agreement between the Registrar for NPAs and the NPA, it was determined that no “recovery plan” would be set up for the NPA and no external auditor would be appointed for it. The NPA abides by its position, according to which it is ready to cooperate with the Registrar and to receive professional help from him. Accordingly, it was agreed by both sides that an accountant, whose identity would be approved in advance by the NPA, would prepare, together with the NPA, a work plan for accompanying the NPA during a limited time in order to improve its procedures and activities, if it be found that there is need for this.

8. This arrangement, whose implementation began in February 2006, accords with the position of the NPA and is agreed to by the Registrar of NPAs. This brings to an end, by agreement, the dispute between the Registrar and the NPA.

This concludes the remarks of Attorney Ophir Katz.

We thank you again for your persistent support and look forward to continuing our work, free of baseless accusations.

Assaf Adiv WAC Director
Roni Ben Efrat – International Relations

Thursday, February 16, 2006

“Home owning democracy”: What’s in a phrase?

A delegation from Swindon trades unions participated in the Parliamentary lobby on February 8th, in support of direct investment in Council Housing. One of the MP's, Anne Snelgrove told us we live in a "home owning democracy". What's in a phrase?

South Swindon’s new Blairite MP Anne Snelgrove told a trade union delegation, participating in the Parliamentary lobby on February 8th, that we live in a “home owning democracy”. She was explaining why she was opposed to Councils building new Council housing. “Home owning democracy”; the phrase rang a bell. Didn’t Thatcher use it? Yes, in her assault on Council Housing she boasted of building a ‘home owning democracy’. This was why she introduced the ‘right to buy’ through which Council housing was given away to tenants with a massive discount. It was a conscious policy designed to destroy Council housing estates as bastions of electoral support for Labour. How could people with ‘capital’ vote Labour?

That a Blairite MP like Snelgrove can utter the phrase without the least embarrassment reflects the degree to which New Labour is rooted in the Thatcher legacy. Historically, democracy was something which working people had to fight for in the teeth of resistance from the British rulers. Even with the passing of the ‘Great Reform’ Act of 1832 (1) only around one in five males had the vote, women none at all. The franchise conceded was based on the value of the property you owned or lived in. Universal suffrage strictly speaking was not conceded until 1928, and even then, the phenomenon of double voting was not done away with until after the Second World War. So home ownership was an important part of the pseudo-democracy which Britain’s rulers conceded piecemeal in order to hang onto their wealth and power.

No doubt Snelgrove does not mean by “home owning democracy” that those who do not own a home should not have the vote. Rather, it reflects the Thatcherite prejudices about ‘standing on your own two feet’, ‘welfare dependency’ etc, which Blair and his clones swallowed whole. We are all ‘Thatcherites’ now declared Peter Mandelson.

New Labour is the “Party of aspiration” we are told. One New Labour councillor in Swindon some years back spoke with disdain about the fact that there were some families who lived on the Parks council estate for three generations! Can you imagine somebody preferring to live in a Council house rather than owning their own home? Obviously they lacked ambition and ‘aspiration’.

But the labour movement historically had collective aspirations. It wanted to improve the lot of the working class as a whole. New Labour has been created by people for whom personal advancement is their driving aspiration. Obviously anybody who lives in council accommodation cannot possibly be a “success” or they would be able to afford to buy their own home.

One of the tenets of New Labour under Blair was that opposing the right to buy had been a big political mistake, from an electoral point of view. But the results of ‘right to buy’ were disastrous. In conjunction with what was effectively a ban on new Council House building (financially penalising Councils for building new stock), it created a massive shortage of Council Housing (2) and helped to drive up prices in the private housing market. The shortage forced people who might have been on a Council House waiting list, to buy their own house (often beyond their means).

Many people bought their home because it was an offer which was too good to be true. The mortgage was often lower than the rent. However, what some did not think about was the cost of maintenance. On the estate which I live on you can see decaying housing which people snapped up but which they did not have the means to modernise, next to Council Housing which has had double glazing and central heating fitted.

After the initial enthusiasm of purchase there was a high occurrence of repossession as new owners found themselves in financial difficulties, especially in the period of high unemployment.

Snelgrove might have no problem uttering the mantra of Thatcher. However, it is worth pausing to consider the consequences of her policy (for the younger generations she is only a figure out of the history books), many elements of which have been left intact by New Labour. The commentary of Ian Gilmour, an opponent of hers within the Tory Party, throws an interesting light on her policy.

The ‘right to buy’ was taken up, during Thatcher’s reign by 1.5 million families. Although in favour of selling Council homes to tenants, Gilmour complained that the government was “more concerned with diminishing the role of local authorities than with the provision of affordable homes”.

“In consequence, so far from doing much to relieve the housing shortage, which it had inherited, the government by its policies, in some places drastically exacerbated it.”

Nicholas Ridley, the Environment Secretary from 1986-9 was “determined to weaken the almost incestuous relationship between some Councils and their tenants”. A 1988 Housing Act encouraged the transfer of tenanted council estates to other landlords through ‘Housing Action Trusts’. The government rigged the voting system by counting those who did not vote as voting in favour of transfer! As Gilmour comments, despite the rigged system, the great majority of tenants decided to ‘continue to live in incest’. At the time many Labour Councils and Councillors helped to lead the campaign against what was known as “pick a landlord”.

When Anne Snelgrove says that Housing Action Trusts would be better building housing she forgets this Thatcherite attempt to destroy Council Housing.

Gilmour continues:

“Homelessness is far from new, but the sale of Council houses, backed by financial incentives (Thatcher’s favourite Council, Wandsworth, offered free holidays to tenants who bought their homes), required a high rate of council house building…or some alternative provision if it was not to lead to increased homelessness. Instead, local authorities were forbidden to spend more than a quarter of the revenue generated from council house sales on new homes and renovations. In so far as the government recognised the resulting problem of homelessness, it left it to be solved by the market. Thus the placing of homeless families in temporary accommodation by local authorities owed less to bad housing management, as the Thatcherites claimed, than to the financial restrictions that they themselves imposed onto the amount of money that could be spent on repairs to make empty properties inhabitable.”

Because local authorities were prevented by the government from providing new homes, they had (in the words of the chair of the then Conservative controlled London Borough Association) to “spend a fortune” on temporary accommodation for the homeless. “This waste of resources”, he said “completely frustrates our objective of achieving value for money and only adds to the appalling amount of human misery involved.”

Ironically, for all the talk of “welfare dependency” what the Thatcher government did was to cut welfare to the poor and increase it to the rich. In 1979 subsidies to owner occupiers and council tenants were roughly equal. By the end of the 1980s the subsidy to council tenants had fallen to around £500 million, while the public handout to owner occupiers in the form of mortgage tax relief had climbed to £5.5 billion.

As a result of the policies of the Thatcher government, in the words of Gilmour, the council house became “more and more the preserve of the very poor”. Before the ‘right to buy’ Council estates comprised a wide cross section of working class people. One of the consequences of the social catastrophe for which the Thatcher government was responsible, was the growth of mass unemployment. Thatcher’s housing policy created conditions where the best stock was bought by those who could afford it. Whilst some people refused to buy out of principled opposition to the policy, probably the majority of those who could afford to buy, did so, thinking as individuals and ignoring the social consequences of their self-interest.

Progressively, Council housing comprised the poorest sections of the community. The absence of new building meant that very few people had a chance of getting accommodation under the points system by which priority was decided. Single parents became a large proportion of those in Council accommodation. The fact that only the most impoverished sections of the community tend to live in Council accommodation is reflected in the statistics. Up to two thirds of tenants receive benefit of one sort or another. Today many people who might have put their names on the list do not bother because the wait is so long.

It is ironic that a ‘one nation’ Tory like Gilmour could see the consequences of Thatcher’s policy, but in contrast the ideological creators of New Labour, in the words of Mandelson wanted to “move forward from where Margaret Thatcher left off”, leaving in place much of her policy.

Like all Blairites, Snelgrove appears to be prejudiced against social provision which was part and parcel of post-Second World War social democracy. She is opposed to Councils being given the right to build new stock. She believes in the 'purchaser/provider' split. She is convinced that private business is ‘more efficient’. Much better that the private sector provide housing, in her view.

Of course, Councils don’t have the resources to build Council Housing themselves. The one I live on was built by John Laing. But Council housing was considered necessary in order to tackle the problem of much of the population living in overcrowded and poor conditions. The history of private landlords in Britain is well known. “Take the money and do as little as possible to maintain the state of accommodation,” was the principle on which many of them operated. Council accommodation greatly improved the quality of life for millions of working class people.

The Blair government’s policy on housing was rooted in Thatcher’s programme. They set out to remove Council Housing from the scene. They set themselves the target of transferring 200,000 houses a year. For Gordon Brown, getting rid of Council housing was a function of managing ‘his’ national balance sheet. It would make the book look better, removing historical housing debt from public accounts.

However, council tenants have a different point of view. Despite all the blackmail and all the tricks, many of them have resisted the transfer of their housing. It is not because they are in love with their councils. Indeed dealing with bureaucracy is one of the downsides of being a tenant. They have opposed privatisation because being a council tenant gives them an affordable home and security of tenure. And stories of life before the big building programmes are passed down from generation to generation. The Racnmanite landlord was a common figure only 40 years ago (3) .

After the delegation from Swindon had met our two MPs, we walked over to the Defend Council Housing rally in Westminster Hall. Gerald Kaufmann, the former Labour Minister, was speaking on the platform. The contrast with New Labour MPs could not have been more graphic. Kaufmann was on the right of the old Labour Party, a member of the last pre-Blair Labour government. Yet here he was not only demanding that Councils have the right to direct investment in their existing stock, but spoke of the need to build new council housing. He reminded us that Tory and Labour governments used to compete about how many Council Houses they had built.

He confessed that when last in the government he had introduced legislation that had given Housing Associations the right to build public housing in conjunction with councils. But it was only conceived as a small niche. Never, he said, did he imagine that Housing Associations would end up as the sole provider of public housing.

Housing Associations are considered providers of ‘social housing’. But, said Kauffman, a lot of his constituency work involved dealing with problems which tenants had with Housing Associations, which are unaccountable organisations. The only ‘public housing’ now built is the result of collaboration between Housing Associations and Local authorities, often accommodation for elderly people. But the amount being built is miniscule.

Anne Snelgrove did express the view that there is a need for more ‘affordable housing’. But the reality is that the housing market will not deliver it. The government is prepared to offer mortgage relief to private owners. It has been prepared to write off historical housing debt for councils whose tenants vote to transfer to another owner. It offers funds for the lunacy of people buying half a mortgage, giving them the privilege of paying mortgage and rent at the same time!

Yet it still refuses to give Councils the right to build new Council Housing. It appears to be politically and ideologically opposed to such a thing. When Gordon Brown recently spoke about his belief in “21st century individualism” he more or less said that people will have to buy their own homes. Clearly he does not believe Councils should build any.

However, the housing crisis will not be addressed by the market or by government help for people to buy. Personal debt is at historically unprecedented levels. The crisis can only realistically be addressed by a new programme of Council House building. The government’s housing policy is in a state of disarray. Their attempt to eradicate Council Housing has been defeated by the resistance of tenants and trades unions. The campaign for the right of Councils to start building Council housing needs to be stepped up.

(1) The Prime Minister Grey explained: “The principle of my reform is to prevent the necessity of revolution…there is no one more dedicated against annual parliaments, universal suffrage, and the (secret) ballot than I am.”
(2) Ironically by relying on ‘market forces’ the concentration of wealth and economic activity has created a situation where in areas like Swindon there has been a massive increase in the Council House waiting list, whilst in other parts of the country, which have suffered an exodus of jobs and population, Council accommodation lies empty, with insufficient ‘demand’ for it.
(3) Rachman was a notorious slum landlord in London.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Support the Tehran Bus Workers

According to the independent interviews with the union's activists and other sources from Tehran, over 700 members of the Syndicate of the Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Company and a number of supporters are still in custody following the brutal use of police and the company's security forces on January 28th.

According to an interview with Mr. Yaghoob Salimi, an alternate board member of the Syndicate, the Evin prison was full with jailed workers. Mr. Salimi himself was not arrested during the strike but the security forces raided his home and arrested three women and five children including his wife and his 12 and 2 years old daughters. The release of his wife and children was conditional upon Mr. Salimi turning himself to the police, which took place on the same day. In an enormously emotional interview, Mr. Salimi's daughter revealed that her mother and other two women were badly beaten by the security forces, the 12 year-year-old was pepper-sprayed in the eyes and her two year old sister was terribly beaten in such a way that her face got badly bruised.

The government brought the military personnel and buses to the City in addition to thousands of security and armed forces as well plain cloth officers that were dispatched to suppress the strike. According to a statement by the Syndicate, many drivers were beaten, threatened and forced to drive buses. According to other sources, about 30 arrested workers have been seriously injured and required immediate medical attention and some had to be transferred from prison to the hospital. The jailed workers in Evin prison have decided to go on hunger strike and the union is deciding about its next move. As the Company's CEO had vowed to fire all striking workers, there are reports that the company and the government authorities are forcing some workers to sign a "penitent statement" in order to be able to return to work.

The union has issued a new plea for support urging their colleagues in Iran and the international labour movements to condemn the attack on workers and support their demands. These fellow workers have been simultaneously fighting back against all these attacks on numerous fronts but, having no rights to organize freely or to strike, their protests and walkouts have been brutally repressed by security and intelligent forces. This heroic and tragic event once again demonstrated that the Iranian labour movement not only needs its own free and strong organizations but it also requires powerful international labour solidarity and support to fight back against these violent offensives by the employers and the oppressive government.

There is no doubt that the Islamic Republic of Iran is in total violation of the most fundamental workers', human and children's rights. This government must be hold accountable for its repressive actions. The International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran is urging all concerned organizations around the world particularly the world's labour movements to intensify their pressure on the Iranian government for the following urgent demands.

1. The immediate and unconditional release of all arrested workers including members of the board of directors of the Syndicate and its president Mr. Mansoor Osanloo.

2. All acts of violence against workers, women and children must be condemned. Children must be properly compensated and those violated children's rights must be prosecuted.

3. The immediate removal of the security and intelligent forces from the company's workstations and bus depots, as well as putting an end to the violent treatment of workers in labour disputes.

4. The recognition of the Syndicate as the genuine representative of workers.

5. The recognition of the right to negotiate collectively and the right to strike.

6. The removal of the government-sponsored Workers House and the Islamic Labour Council from the company's workplaces since they merely are agents of the employer and the government and have no legitimacy amongst workers. Furthermore, the Workers' House and Islamic Labour Councils must be expelled from all international labour bodies (see below for background information).

7. The expulsion or suspension of the Islamic Republic of Iran from the International Labour Organization due to its total violation of workers' fundamental rights as stipulated by the international labour conventions and the international human rights standards.

8. The Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (Sherkat-e Vahed) and Tehran's Mayor must be denounced strongly by the world's labour and human right's communities as one of the most repressive employers and hold liable accordingly. The company must be pressured to reinstate all workers, pay workers their due amount with appropriate and fair compensation and recognize the union. The company must be warned not to take any retaliatory actions against workers.

9. A fact-finding international labour delegation should be dispatched to Iran to investigate the violation of workers and human rights and publicly report their finding for appropriate actions.

For more information, please contact

International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran

Your protest letters can be sent to the following addresses:

Mr. Mahmoud Ahmadjinejad,
President of the Islamic Republic of Iran
Fax: + 98-21-6648.06.65 or: + 98 21 649 5880 &

Ambassador Mohammad Reza Alborzi, Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic
of Iran to the United Nations Institutions in Geneva, Chemin du
Petit-Saconnex 28, 1209 Geneva, Switzerland, Fax: +41 22 733 02 03, E-mail: