Michael Byrne: Organizing Tenants

The financial crisis of 2008 was not just a crisis of the global economy but also a crisis of the “home ownership dream.” The bursting of the debt bubble has placed the possibility of owning a home beyond the reach of an entire generation. In the US, the UK, Ireland, Spain and many countries affected by the financial crash, renting is on the rise for the first time in a century. This is much more than a shift in housing tenures; it represents a shift in the politics of housing.trigger more text

Rent increases and evictions have become key issues and even the standard of accommodation and overcrowding, in a throwback to the early decades of the twentieth century, are major challenges. The shift to renting means that more wealth is being transferred from low-income households to wealthy investors, where the former have no possibility for the formation of housing wealth through ownership and the latter are increasingly driven by financialized dynamics. The inequality at stake here is not just about wealth: renters typically have weak rights in terms of security of tenure and the regulation of rents, and as such evictions, frequent moves and abysmal quality properties are the norm.

From individual crisis to collective organizing

Against this backdrop, a new generation of grassroots organizations are emerging to challenge landlords and government and to organize tenants. Three such organizations set up in recent years are:

  • Living Rent (LR), a Scottish tenant organization with branches in a number of cities. It was established in 2014 and has recently expanded into a national union of tenants.
  • The Dublin Tenants Association (DTA), in which I participate. It describes itself as a space for tenants to come together to fight for their right to housing. It was established in late 2014 as a volunteer, tenant-led group. The association engages in peer-support, campaigning and advocacy.
  • The London Renters Union (LRU), a soon-to-be-launched project created by a number of London housing groups with the intention of fighting “for a fair deal for renters and to build the power we need to transform our housing system.”

These organizations are developing new ways of responding to the growing conflict between tenants and landlords and between housing as a right and housing as a financialized asset. They aim to become more than radical activist groups, but rather to organize tenants en masse and to change the structural conditions and policies which condemn tenants to a life of high rents, frequent evictions and low-quality housing.

All the organizations mentioned above are involved in collective action in response to individual issues, in particular rent increases, evictions and poor housing standards. This involves providing information about tenants’ rights, negotiating with landlords, media campaigns targeting specific landlords and taking legal cases. For tenant organizers this is about tenants working together to fight for their rights, rather than charity.

Renting can be an isolating and individualizing experience. The only time a tenant is likely to reach out to others is during a particular moment of crisis, such as a rent increase or eviction. These moments provide the possibility to de-individualize the experience of renting, but also to politicize that experience by showing that by working together tenants can change their reality.

Yet this kind of “case work” brings its own challenges — and not just in terms of the considerable resources it requires. It risks drifting into a kind of charity-based service provision and even produce a dynamic whereby the activist becomes a kind of housing rights expert, with the tenant passively receiving their help. This is something tenant organizations are currently negotiating. The challenge is to find a way of organizing that collectivizes and politicizes individual experiences in a way that strengthens agency.

Campaigning for change

Behind these individual experiences are wider social structures that perpetuate the conditions tenants face. If these structures are not challenged the individual crises they give rise to will be reproduced indefinitely. Renters in the private sector, unlike homeowners and social-housing tenants, have extremely limited rights on all fronts, and the sector has been subject to deep deregulation. The result is that the rental sector is the “wild west” of the housing system, peppered with irrational and dysfunctional policies that even the febrile mind of the most fundamentalist neoliberal would struggle to defend.

Living Rent emerged as a national tenants’ organization in response to a consultation opened by the Scottish government in relation to security of tenure. In common with England and Wales, Scotland had one of the weakest forms of security of tenure in Europe. The inclusion of “no fault evictions” meant that tenants enjoyed effectively zero security. LR used this opportunity to engage with tenants, to shape debate and discourse around tenants’ rights and to impact on policy change.

Their main tactic was to set up street stalls and go “door-knocking” to engage tenants, inform them of the consultation and encourage them to make a submission to the consultation process. They designed a postcard addressed to the relevant government department, which tenants could fill out. At the end of the process, Living Rent delivered sacks full of the postcard submissions to the consultation process. The focus of LR’s campaign was on security of tenure including ending “no fault evictions” and securing long-term security for tenants. However, rent levels, which were not originally included within the consultation process, were also raised by LR, and their campaign included a demand for rent controls.

The Dublin Tenants Association, meanwhile, also conducted a campaign for rent controls and security of tenure in the context of a government consultation process in 2016. Tenants were asked to take photos of themselves holding a placard stating the impact of high rents on their lives and share them on social media. This was the first time, at least in recent decades, that tenants have featured as an organized and public voice in debates about housing.

The campaigns conducted by LR and the DTA met with a surprising level of success. Particularly in the case of LR, policy reforms were introduced that far exceeded what might have been anticipated. Indefinite security of tenure was introduced and regulation of rent increases, which was initially not even included in the policy agenda, was also introduced. A form of rent control has also been introduced in Ireland, as well as moderate reforms to security of tenure, although this was a result of a concerted campaign by a variety of civil society actors, in particular housing charities, and cannot solely be attributed to the DTA.

Successes and challenges

A number of factors help explain the effectiveness of these campaigns. Firstly, both DTA and LR achieved a very effective and informed engagement with policy. This has also been a strength of Generation Rent, one of the constituent groups of the London Renters Union. In critiquing current policy and developing alternatives, examples from other European countries were also important. For example, both DTA and LR were able to point to data from countries such as Denmark and Austria to show that tight regulation of rent increases is compatible with adequate supply of rental accommodation.

A second theme is effective engagement with the media. This is enormously facilitated by a firm understanding of policy detail, which makes possible credible arguments and proposals but also allows activists to combat anti-tenant perspectives. Media work was further facilitated by the fact that none of these countries have heretofore had organizations representing or advocating for tenants as a specific social group (at least not in recent decades). This created a vacuum that tenant organizations could fill.

Tenant organizations have furthermore developed a language to speak from a tenants’ perspective, reflecting the experiences of tenants but also articulating “tenants” as specific social actors and as a collective. Creating this sense of collectivity is a specific goal of tenant organizations to counter the individualizing nature of renting. The DTA, for example, set out from the beginning to develop a language through which to speak to and for tenants, based closely on their experiences rather than relying on a traditional left-wing discourse to produce a readymade critique of the rental sector. This is not just a case of “representing tenants” and communicating with them, but a case of speaking as tenants.

There are, however, a number of challenges in campaigning for renters’ rights. There is a danger of falling into a representational politics in which tenants become almost a “consumer group,” whose interests need to be factored into the policy process. This depoliticizes the fundamental antagonism between renters and landlords, and between a home as a right and as a speculative asset. It also potentially divides tenants in the private rental sector from those in social housing.

Furthermore, there are class divisions and other forms of stratification operating within the rental sector. This is typically ignored by media reports, which tend to focus on a “generation rent” consisting exclusively of “young professionals.” Minorities, migrants and female-headed households are very significantly over-represented within the rental sector, but may be underrepresented in tenant organizations. The London Renters Union has paid particular attention to this issue and organized extensive engagement designed to create an inclusive organization that is led by the different social groups that make up renters.

Unionizing and organizing tenants

Of the three organizations discussed here, two have established themselves as tenants unions, meaning they have a fee-paying membership structure. Tenants formally join the union, pay monthly due, are able to participate in decision-making, and are eligible for support such as legal advice.

The power of the union model is that it can combine and strengthen both casework and campaigning, the two principal forms of action which tenant organizations are already engaged in, and as such achieve the kind of mass-scale required to bring about structural change. In particular, a fee-paying membership creates independent revenue, which allows for hiring paid staff. LR and the LRU both view paid staff as a prerequisite for organizing effectively on a mass scale, and have either already hired staff or are in the process of doing so.

The DTA is more agnostic about the benefits of a somewhat professionalized structure. Indeed, all of the organizations are concerned about the political questions at stake in creating a well-structured union with paid staff, and this will no doubt be a challenge to be confronted — and hopefully overcome — as the organizations develop.

The DTA, LR and LRU are certainly not the only grassroots tenant organizations springing up across Europe. Acorn, the grassroots “community union,” is organizing around tenants’ rights in a number of English cities, and renters’ unions have recently been launched in both Barcelona and Madrid. The proliferation of these groups tells us something important about how the politics of housing is changing today. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, the focus among many researchers and activists was on the issue of housing debt and the associated forms of social conflict and activism. Mortgage arrears and repossession have been important political issues in Ireland and the United States, but most significantly for the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH) in Spain.

However, new banking regulation and more stringent credit standards coupled with declining wages and job security make accessing mortgages increasingly difficult. Today, the principal drivers of housing inequality are not excessive debt levels but exclusion from access to credit and homeownership. As households find themselves increasingly relegated to the rental sector for life, and with social housing continuing its decline, the types of issues which dominated “the housing question” in the early twentieth century have returned to prominence: rent increases, evictions, overcrowding rack-renting, and so on.

Political and social conditions today are, however, markedly different. The tenant organizations of the past typically organized in locally concentrated, neighborhood-based working-class communities characterized by relatively high levels of homogeneity and well-formed social networks. Much like the situation faced in precarious workplaces, today’s tenant organizers confront a highly fragmented and individualized rental sector. The challenge, then, is not just to mobilize tenants but to create a shared sense of being a tenant in the first place, as well as the social relations, forms of discourse and shared culture of organizing and political practice required to sustain any successful movement.

Michael Byrne is co-director of the MSc in Equality Studies at University College Dublin and is an activist with the Dublin Tenants Association. Article Zmag

So you want to be…

There are many ways of engaging in public life. There is the part where you learn about things. Then there is the part where you start to take part. This series look at some directions people go in. For beginners and finding out what is good for you. This is not instructions on what to do. Just some encouragement to do something. The only instructions we need is. Never do or believe anything till you have checked out the facts yourself. Part 1. https://youtu.be/zR7CMVlywEY

Radical Imagination Making news Building vision

Radical Imagination Making news Building vision

There are a ton of groups and individuals working on all sorts of projects out there. Do you ever wonder what they have in common? Are there coherent strands to this work, broader aims, coalitions, a bigger picture that directs any of this work?trigger more text

If there is: Do you think its a good idea that it is carried out on Facebook? How do you reach out to a whole section of the population who do not use or have access or no interest in Facebook? Do you think the expanding of the, not for profit industrial complex, is helping to maintain the status quo? Do you think the Universal basic income might be something that could help free up the minds of those at the bottom rungs of society to allow them to be more innovative in building solutions and understanding of their own problems?

Have you ever wondered: Why most people who go under the term activist, are always to busy, and that many ordinary folk are sitting at home wondering what they should do? Is representative democracy working? What are we winning by it? Do you think we are obsessed with what technology can do and forgotten what it can’t do? Why we are informed and equate through the news, the plight of the poor, the asylum seeker, the mentally ill, the destitute, the unemployed, and never meet them?

What are the questions you would ask? Not just about the problems, but more about the solutions. Not just about the struggle but about our place within it. Not just about solving how to survive in the system, but practical solutions for changing it?

And the biggest question of all: How do we connect all this random activity to keeping the planet livable in the long term for human beings? If ever there was a time for convergence towards a collective idea it is now. If ever there was a time to put aside petty slights and find common ground it is now. If ever there was a time to put aside absolutes and to deal with pragmatic questions in the here-and-now, it is now. If ever there was the need to engage in a common project with an overarching narrative. it is now. If ever there was a time to engage in sensible conversation it is now.

Radical Imagination 2017

Radical Imagination Making news Building vision

Radical Imagination Making news Building vision

There are a ton of groups and individuals working on all sorts of projects out there. Do you ever wonder what they have in common? Are there coherent strands to this work, broader aims, coalitions, a bigger picture that directs any of this work?

If there is: Do you think its a good idea that it is carried out on Facebook? How do you reach out to a whole section of the population who do not use or have access or no interest in Facebook? Do you think the expanding of the, not for profit industrial complex, is helping to maintain the status quo? Do you think the Universal basic income might be something that could help free up the minds of those at the bottom rungs of society to allow them to be more innovative in building solutions and understanding of their own problems?

Have you ever wondered: Why most people who go under the term activist, are always to busy, and that many ordinary folk are sitting at home wondering what they should do? Is representative democracy working? What are we winning by it? Do you think we are obsessed with what technology can do and forgotten what it can’t do? Why we are informed and equate through the news, the plight of the poor, the asylum seeker, the mentally ill, the destitute, the unemployed, and never meet them?

What are the questions you would ask? Not just about the problems, but more about the solutions. Not just about the struggle but about our place within it. Not just about solving how to survive in the system, but practical solutions for changing it?

And the biggest question of all: How do we connect all this random activity to keeping the planet livable in the long term for human beings? If ever there was a time for convergence towards a collective idea it is now. If ever there was a time to put aside petty slights and find common ground it is now. If ever there was a time to put aside absolutes and to deal with pragmatic questions in the here-and-now, it is now. If ever there was the need to engage in a common project with an overarching narrative. it is now. If ever there was a time to engage in sensible conversation it is now.

Radical Imagination 2017

Making news Building vision

Out in the Open -Remarks on the Trump Election-

Out in the Open

— Remarks on the Trump Election —

BUREAU OF PUBLIC SECRETS
November 16, 2016

 

Powerful though they may be, irrational popular tendencies are not irresistible forces. They contain their own contradictions. Clinging to some absolute authority is not necessarily a sign of faith in authority; it may be a desperate attempt to overcome one’s increasing doubts (the convulsive tightening of a slipping grip). People who join gangs or reactionary groups, or who get caught up in religious cults or patriotic hysteria, are also seeking a sense of liberation, connection, purpose, participation, empowerment. As Wilhelm Reich showed, fascism gives a particularly vigorous and dramatic expression to these basic aspirations, which is why it often has a deeper appeal than the vacillations, compromises and hypocrisies of liberalism and leftism. In the long run the only way to defeat reaction is to present more forthright expressions of these aspirations, and more authentic opportunities to fulfill them. When basic issues are forced into the open, irrationalities that flourished under the cover of psychological repression tend to be weakened, like disease germs exposed to sunlight and fresh air.

The Joy of Revolution
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The Donald Trump campaign has exposed some very ugly aspects of American society. They’re not pretty to look at, but it’s probably better that they’re out there in the open where we can all see them and no one can deny them. It has also revealed some genuine grievances that had been ignored, and it’s good that those too are now out in the open.

The downsides of Trump’s victory are numerous and all too obvious. But I’d like to point out a few possible upsides.

In Beyond Voting I noted that the Trump campaign was accelerating the self-destruction of the Republican Party. I was assuming that he would probably lose and that there would then be a bitter civil war over who was to blame, making it difficult for them to regroup and write it off as a one-time fluke. But I think his victory will be even worse for the Republicans.

This may seem like an odd thing to say, considering that the Republicans now have the Presidency as well as both houses of Congress. But I think it’s going to be like the proverbial dog chasing a car: what happens if the dog actually catches the car?

As long as power was split between a Democratic Presidency and a Republican Congress, each side could blame the other for the lack of positive accomplishments. But now that the Republicans have got a monopoly, there will be no more excuses.

Imagine that you’re a Republican politician. You’ve been reelected — so far, so good. But the people who voted for you and your colleagues and your new Leader did so under the impression that you were going to bring about some dramatic improvements in their lives. What happens when you actually have to deliver some of the things you promised?

During the last six years you’ve staged dozens of meaningless votes to repeal Obamacare, saying that you wanted to replace it with some superior Republican plan. Now is the moment of truth. If you don’t repeal it, you’ll have millions of people screaming at your betrayal. If you do repeal it, where is that wonderful plan that you somehow were never able to come up with? That plan is of course nonexistent, nothing but the usual simple-minded rhetoric about free markets leading to lower prices. Do you think that the 22 million newly insured people, many of whom voted for you, will be pleased to be deprived of their Obamacare insurance and to find themselves back in their previous situation? It is very unpopular (as well as very complicated) to undo benefits that people are already used to possessing.

Moreover, note that Obamacare is essentially a Republican plan, slightly tweaked by Obama — a feeble patchwork attempt to respond to America’s severe healthcare crisis. Such a clumsy program is understandably not very popular. But Social Security and Medicare (which Paul Ryan now wants to dismantle) are by far the most popular social programs in America, and have been for decades. As Eisenhower famously noted, “Should any political party attempt to abolish social security unemployment insurance and eliminate labor laws and farm programs you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group of course that believes you can do these things. Among them are a few Texas oil millionaires and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.” Apparently their number is no longer negligible in your party. Are you ready to go over the cliff with them?

Some of your base are still vehemently anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage — but most of the country isn’t. Are you going to try to undo reproductive rights or marriage equality nationwide? If not, are you going to go back to the chaos of “leaving it to the states”?

Speaking of logistical nightmares, what about your famous Mexican wall? Are you really going to commit to such a silly project, which would accomplish nothing and cost hundreds of billions of dollars? And incidentally, after you’ve given the rich a lot more tax breaks and funneled much of the rest of the budget into the already bloated Pentagon, where is the funding for such projects going to come from?

The same goes for the major infrastructure improvements Trump has promised. This is one of his few sensible proposals – it would rev up the economy and create millions of jobs, which would in turn generate lots more tax revenue down the line. But getting it kickstarted will require deficit financing, which goes totally against the austerity policies that have been preached as gospel by your party for decades. Revived economy or party orthodoxy — which will it be?

Racism has been one of the key foundations of your party ever since Nixon inaugurated the “Southern strategy” fifty years ago, but it’s usually been discreet and deniable. Now that connection is out in the open. Many of Trump’s most fervent supporters are already celebrating his victory by harassing people of color in his name. How are you going to dissociate yourselves from that?

Your party was already heading toward a civil war between its mutually contradictory components (financial elite, tea party, neocons, libertarians, religious reactionaries, and the few remaining moderates). To those general divisions are now added the antagonisms between the new Leader and those who oppose him. Bush at least had sense enough to know that he was an incompetent figurehead, and gladly let Cheney and Rove run things. Trump thinks he’s a genius, and anyone who doesn’t agree will be added to his already very large enemies list.

He’s also a very loose cannon, which is why the Republican establishment feared him in the first place. He has proposed things like Congressional term limits which Republican politicians emphatically do not want, while on the other hand he is now reportedly considering not repealing Obamacare, perhaps because he has become aware of how complex and risky such as action might be. Who knows what other things he’ll come up with or backtrack on?

And this whole show is so public. Obama’s smooth, genial persona enabled him to get away with war crimes, massive deportations, and all sorts of corporate compromises (not a single criminal banker prosecuted) with few people paying attention and fewer still protesting. This will not be the case with President Ubu and his Clown Car administration. The whole world will be watching, and every detail will be scrutinized and debated. It’s going to look as ugly as it is in reality, and you’re going to be forever tarred by the association. You’re no longer in the Republican Party, you’re in the Trump Party. You bought it, you own it.

If I’m that imagined Republican politician, I don’t think I feel very confident about the future of my party.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party is facing its own reckoning.

Democratic apologists are trying to focus the blame on one or another particular factor: the electoral college, voter suppression, third-party campaigns, the Comey announcement, etc. But this election shouldn’t have been close enough for any of those things to matter. The Democrats were running against the most glaringly unqualified candidate in American history. It should have been a landslide.

With Bernie Sanders it probably would have been. (A post-election national poll shows him beating Trump 56-44.) He was by far the most popular candidate in the country, while Hillary Clinton’s approval rating was almost as negative as Trump’s. Polls consistently showed Bernie beating Trump and all the other Republican candidates by wide margins, while Hillary was struggling against them all and even losing to some of them. Moreover, Bernie’s popularity cut across party lines, appealing not just to Democrats but to independents and even large numbers of Republicans. While Hillary was courting Wall Street and celebrity donors, he was attracting crowds that were ten times as large as any she ever managed, including thousands of the kind of enthusiastic young people who would have traveled across the country to work their hearts out for him (as they did to a lesser extent for Obama in 2008). While Hillary was constantly on the defensive, Bernie would have taken the offensive and turned the momentum in a progressive direction all over the country. He would easily have won the three Rust Belt states that cost Hillary the election, he probably would also have won some of the other swing states she lost, and his coattails would have flipped enough additional down-ballot races to regain the Senate and perhaps even put the House into play.

But the Democratic Party establishment preferred to risk losing with a loyal machine candidate rather than to risk winning with an independent radical whose movement might have challenged their cushy positions. Despite the fact that Hillary had a ton of baggage (some actually bad and much that could easily be made to look bad) and that she was a perfect embodiment of the glib, self-satisfied insider-elite and a longtime advocate of the neoliberal policies that had ravaged the country (especially in the Rust Belt), they pulled out all the stops to impose her as “inevitable,” while smugly dismissing Sanders as “unrealistic.”

In reality, the supposedly unrealistic solutions that Sanders called for were supported by large majorities of the population. Under pressure, Hillary belatedly adopted watered-down versions of some of those solutions, but few people believed she was sincere enough to really fight for them like Sanders would have. Her campaign mostly amounted to business as usual: “Defend the status quo! You have to vote for me because my opponent is even worse!”

It didn’t work. Interviews with Trump voters reveal that although many of them were indeed racist, many others were not (a large portion of them had previously voted for Obama). But they were enraged at the national political establishment that had abandoned them and they wanted somebody to “shake it up” and “clean it out.” Bernie spoke to those feelings, Hillary did not. Since Bernie wasn’t on the ballot, they decided to send a big “fuck you” message by voting for the other supposed “outsider,” who had at least claimed that he would do just that. Many others did not go that far, but they sent a similar message by staying home. Many others, of course, did vote for Hillary, including most of the Bernie supporters; but the enthusiasm was not there.

The Democratic Party establishment bears the ultimate blame for this miserable outcome. Millions of people know this and they are now trying to figure out what to do about it: how to break up the party machine, how to wean the party from its corporate dependence and transform it so that it can help address the challenges we face. I wish them well, but it won’t be easy to get rid of such an entrenched and corrupt bureaucracy — particularly since many elements of that bureaucracy will now be posing as heroes resisting the Trump administration. It will be difficult for this party to retain any credibility if it does not at least rally to a Sanders-type progressive program. That kind of program is far from a sufficient solution to the global crises we face, but it could at least claim to be a step in the right direction. Anything less will be a farce.

Meanwhile, with the Republicans’ monopoly control over the government, even those who normally focus on electoral politics must realize that for some time to come the main struggle will be outside the parties and outside the government. It will be grassroots participatory actions or nothing.

New movements of protest and resistance will develop during the coming weeks and months, responding to this bizarre and still very unpredictable new situation. At this point it’s hard to say what forms such movements will take, except to note that just about everyone seems to recognize that our number-one priority will be defending blacks, Latinos, Muslims, LGBTQs, and others most directly threatened by the new regime.

But we will also need to defend ourselves. The first step in resisting this regime is to avoid getting too caught up with it — obsessively following the latest news about it and impulsively reacting to each new outrage. That kind of compulsive media consumption was part of what led to this situation in the first place. Let’s treat this clown show with the contempt it deserves and not forget the fundamental things that still apply — picking our battles, but also continuing to nourish the personal relations and creative activities that make life worthwhile in the first place. Otherwise, what will we be defending?

Ultimately, as soon as we can recover our bearings, we’ll have to go back on the offensive. We were already going to have to face severe global crises during the coming decades. Maybe this disaster will shock us into coming together and addressing those crises sooner and more wholeheartedly than we would have otherwise, with fewer illusions about the capacity of the existing system to save us.

BUREAU OF PUBLIC SECRETS
November 16, 2016

An eyesore on the linear development of the Clydeside

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Another industrial eyesore removed from the historical conscience

The antiques warehouse that used to sit on the waterfront giving a bit of diversity of why folk would be attracted to the river side. Burnt to a cinder over a weekend. No doubt to be replaced by more sterile blocks of flats. Eyesores to the gentrifiers, or should we say cultural colonisers, is anything that might sit at a funny angle, never mind architectural or historical significance, to the grid mentality that builds, not so much flats, but rather, sells investment in cubic meters of walled concrete.trigger more text

If we didn’t have the shipyard museum in Govan, and the one lonely column, that stands outside the supermarket in Springburn, what would we have? Where is our industrial heritage? What was once the site of the engineer works that built and exported steam engines all over the world. (25% global market share) Only one single pole remains there, one stanchion from the Hyde Park Works in central Springburn, is what Springburn has physically to represent the industry sweat and labour of its steam engine building past. What an embarrassment. Maybe the city planners should sneak in of a night time and remove it, or it may internally combust on its own, if neglected long enough. With this kind of disregard towards our industrial architecture, it should be no surprise that another remnant of our industrial past is bulldozed after going up in flames…

“Glasgow continues to maintain its reputation as the city in which historic buildings “go on fire”, the latest victim of ‘spontaneous combustion being Scotway House in Partick, close to the river Clyde.
A large two-storey pile of polychromatic brick and sandstone, it was designed by Bruce & May and built as offices for the shipbuilders and engineers, David & William Henderson & Co. Many of the record-breaking yachts built in the Meadowside Shipyard were designed in the building, which was listed at Category B. Empty and derelict, however, it had long been on the Buildings at Risk register for Scotland.
With the decline of shipbuilding, Scotway House found itself isolated on cleared ground between the new Riverside Museum – that absurd, impractical shed designed by the late Zaha Hadid – and the new Glasgow Harbour flats. It was first proposed for demolition in 2002. Three years later, the Glasgow Harbour developers proposed re-erecting it on another site as a restaurant. In 2011 it was proposed to restore it as a rock ‘n’ roll hall of lame. Last year it was proposed to convert it into a bar and restaurant next to a planned complex of student flats. All in vain. Last January part of the roof was damaged by fire, and last month the whole building was gutted by a far worse fire. It now stands as a roofless shell, and no doubt what is left will soon be (is being) cleared away for development.” Piloty Private Eye.

Italics added 

The case of North Kelvin Meadows and The Glasgow Effect

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North Kelvin Meadows

Think about it. Is there another campaign at present in the city that has used its assets, common sense, media, resources and everything else to the best of their ability? Can you think of another campaign that has as good a prospect of winning, if given the right support? A project that has helped to delineate the council bosses, position clearly, of profit over people? This campaign if successful would set an example for others to follow in the de-privatisation of public land. The campaign is well run and seems to do all the right things in many ways. It would be a very important model and win if successful and as well to the encouragement of other incipient campaigns and growing spaces in the community. But remember, It could also have the complete opposite effect if it fails. It would set greening spaces back years. The city council bosses also know this, (and the Scottish government) as well as having the added incentive for development opportunities and of stocking the council coffers with the moneys involved, by the selling of this commons and many others like it, that will inevitably come into the future sights of developers .trigger more text

The Meadows, would be just the kind of win to boost campaigns of this nature all over the city. Do people in growing spaces realise how important this campaign is to the sustainability of growing and green space? I hope they do and start to come up with some ideas in supporting the campaign, learning from it and using the inspired imagination in building solidarity for the next round in defending this space and others. There is a need to keep up momentum and it should not be left only to the people directly involved at the meadows. (Or other places.) The city council, or/and the Government, will decide the fate of this space. But it will need a collective “City Peoples Council” to make sure they make the right decision and set a precedent for future community development.

Whats this to do with “The Glasgow Effect”?

Quoting from the article links below: ‘A recent report finds that radical attempts to solve Glasgow’s housing problems in the 1960s and 1970s left the city vulnerable when government policy steered investment away from housing and towards retail and other industries in subsequent decades. Walsh added: “The Scottish Office embarked on a series of policies that effectively wrote off the city – they designated it a ‘declining city’ and their plans focused on economic growth elsewhere.”
“This was a policy that went on for decades despite an awareness that this was having a massively negative impact in socio-economic terms and therefore on health.”’

Basically they are saying in the early 80s, the city stopped investing in its people and social housing and shifted its interests to business investment. Which is a big part of the reason for the so called “Glasgow Effect”.  Why the poverty levels in Glasgow, were 30% higher than other cities, such as Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, that deindustrialise at the same time as Glasgow.  You can read about this below. But it also needs to be remembered, importantly. At the same time (early 80s), as the government were de-investing in people, a group of folk in Reidvale, Dennistoun, were investing in themselves. (As the corporation were ripping down tenements and communities with them and packing families of to the schemes and tower blocks, as the corporation, geographically blighted the city space for the use of motorways and commerce.) Many of the people in Reidvale Dennison, during these clearances, said No! We want to stay in our community. Fix our houses we are not moving! And they did stay in their houses, in their community. The rest is history as the people of Reidvale, created a model for Community Based Housing Associations, that is used, not only in Glasgow, but all over Britain.

We have now suffered 30-40 years of de-investment in people. Now the car loving motorway builders are proclaiming “People make Glasgow”  If people make Glasgow, it is going to need more than a branding exercise, that has more to do with selling produce than investing in people. If people make Glasgow, it will be about making council bosses do what they are told and forcing them to invest in our kids, our vulnerable and those trapped in poverty. We need basically to make them eat their own words.

Ideas for looking forward

There is no reason “The Glasgow Effect” should not be made into something wonderful, something unique and meaningful to the people of Glasgow. Turned on its head from something that is done to the city’s people, to something that they do for themselves.

The council did not listen to the people in the community of Reidvale at that time , they were made to listen. And in the case of Kelvin meadows and other such like projects, (the city administration should really be boasting about, the achievements of its citizens, rather than taking the credit), they didn’t listen to any of them either. They were made to listen, Govanhill baths, Kelvingrove bandstand,  Kinningpark Complex, to name a few. As Glaswegian’s, we may have a few attitude problems and don’t think positively enough, as Carol Craig, et al, will remind us. But most, commonly ignore, or underestimate the states role in all of this. The systematic draining of money, resources and assets that took place during the 80s (and continues to this day) that had and is still having a massive effect on the poorest in our city. This was no news to the many who, experienced, have reported and written about it throughout. They were also ignored, and still are.

People “do” make Glasgow. If only more of them realised this simple fact.

The Meadows should become a collective meeting grounds as part of helping to create a “Dear Green Place” benchmark – for those with any interest in freeing the soil of this city in perpetuity for our kids and future generations – until the developers are completely cast off this bit of public land. Winning could be easier than we think and the effect could spread to awaken the public conscience to more ideas for looking forward. And perish the thought, there is a lot of fun to be had to.

It is not rocket science, when we look around us, to understand where the money is being spent, invested and where it is not. Do we really need reports that take years to write to tell us this? It is right in front of our eyes. Like everything else, we have just gotten used to it. So much of our attention is being diverted by, the positive thinking industry, or the  “But this is the real world” theory. So much energy put into ideas, concepts, explanations, excuses of why things are happening to us. We are all just getting used to all of it, learned to live with it and to shield ourselves from dealing with it. There was an old 60s saying that is fitting when the glut of rhetoric outweighed the practicalities. “Move you arse and your brain will follow.” Not poetic, but It has never been more apt advice, than it is at present. People make Glasgow, sure, but which people, you? Me? What are the ideas for doing it together? Because it’s not going to happen otherwise.

https://www.commonspace.scot/articles/8404/scotland-office-policies-blamed-glasgow-effect-forthcoming-report
http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/14493634.Revealed___Glasgow_effect__mortality_rate_blamed_on_Westminster_social_engineering/?ref=ebln

https://northkelvinmeadow.com

The secret History of our Streets
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04ck993

Half of it is about showing up. Frida Berrigan

 

City Strolls “Enough already” walk

With their 1994 battle cry, “Ya basta!” (“Enough already!”) Mexico’s Zapatista uprising became the spearhead of two convergent movements: Mexico’s movement for indigenous rights and the international movement against corporate globalization.

‘I think we have to start by admitting that we don’t have the answers. The fact that we think that taking state power is the wrong way to go does not mean that we know the right way. Probably we have to think of advancing through experiments and questions: “preguntando caminamos” — “walking we ask questions” — as the Zapatistas put it. To think of moving forward through questions rather than answers means a different sort of politics, a different sort of organization. If nobody has the answers, then we have to think not of hierarchical structures of leadership, but horizontal structures that involve everyone as much as possible.’ John Holloway

Join us on an “Enough already”, walk. Meet at Govan underground and come on a walk into town, taking in the landscape and discuss the changing social dynamic and ways we can move forward. Or just come for the stroll. All ages welcome.

Saturday 18th June. Meet 12:00 Govan Underground. Walk around two hours. Finnish with tea at the Electron Club CCA Suchiehall street.

From an activist notebook

The term activist is a bit odd as it implies everybody else is inactive, which is far from the case. But for this we will imagine an activist as someone engaged in public life, in political life, is interested in things outside of the private. Should that not be everybody? Is there such a thing as inactivism? After all, to do nothing has as big an impact on things as whatever else happens.

trigger more text

Today maybe more than ever. So what is meant by activist, or activism, here is a marker to describe those odd people, to varying extents, that have some kind of political obsession. I guess what is meant by politics here needs some clarification to. Politics, in this sense, is what we do together; by discussing things, coming up with ideas consensually, by inclusion and by keeping as many people happy as possible, before making final decisions and acting on them. Politics is the act of engaging in public life. This description for the purposes here, should not be confused with “party politics”, which is something completely different.

So what is activism here, in terms of what has being described above? Well specifically, activities towards implementing ideas that will force institutional change. The banking institutions; corporate institutions, state institutions and the powerful conglomerates, who for profit, ensure that many live in poverty. This is the high end of what needs to be achieved. If we can understand a bit about what is going on up there, we can understand what we need to do down here. This is the bit, apart from the obsessed, where peoples eyes start to glaze over. Attempting to explain to folk who are politically disengaged for many reasons, what is going on up there, in the corporate stratosphere . All they can see is the mad rush of their lives flashing past. All the things they need to do, or would rather think about, apart from, (to them) the abstract and intimidating world of the “activist”. What’s this got to do with me?  A question constantly posed and rarely answered.

The general problem with the activist, (self included) is that they usually know a lot more about what is going on up there, than they do about what is going on down here. This isn’t a criticism of the need for better understanding, more a question of context, more a question of what is needed at this point in time. The question is not only about getting folk away from the television, consumerism and private life into public life, into the community, but also about getting the activist away from academia, social media, esoteric groups, the protest culture and the constant defense of their own righteous position, into the same community. We all need to have things we enjoy doing and that interests us. The point is. If that is all that we are doing, no matter how important we feel it is, we also need to ask. Who, and what purpose is it serving?

“If you look over the developments in recent years, there’s been severe retrogression on economic and political issues, but considerable progress on cultural and social issues.” Noam Chomsky

In other words we are making much progress in cultural change and around social issues. There are a mass of wonderful things going on. But there are two things. Where is the infrastructure work growing out of this progress that will be powerful enough to challenge institutional power, i.e. the banks? Where is the work going on to engage the many ordinary folk we will need to raise to that challenge? In the world of the activist, we can usually fill rooms to listen to and watch how others, in other countries build and raise the kind of awareness and solidarity needed to challenge corporate power. Which is ok in itself. But in our own communities the same handful of folk will turn up when the problem is our own social housing, or such like, that is at stake. Sure there is commendable stuff going on on the ground and much to admire that we should be thankful for.  But it is enough to shift the might of the powerful? To hurt as Michael Albert says, what they hold dear? That will take a massive mind shift in the population, but will still have more to do with practicalities than philosophy. A bit less peer to peering on the network and a bit more education to where it is needed most. By us getting out more, by showing up, by being active, in all the right places.

The following offers some ideas for going forward. Yet again not much is mentioned of building grass roots networks that relate to peoples day to day lives. Maybe that could be part of a shared program?

People for a Shared Program
People for a Shared Program is a place to explore, develop and organise around left programmatic ideas. http://www.sharedprogram.org/#!faq/ryp9j