James B and Colin Revolting report:
The Focus E15 Mothers housing activists led a march of around 500 people through Stratford, East London on Saturday 19 September to mark the second anniversary of their campaign. The ‘March against Evictions’ was loud, colourful and restated the determination of campaigners to win their battle.
The broad range of banners present attested to the reputation that Focus E15 has built up as militant grass-roots activists, whose campaign has become emblematic of the struggle against social cleansing. Among the crowd could be seen Action East End, Class War, Concrete Action, Feminist Fightback, the GMB Union, Left Unity, Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, the National Bargee Travellers Association, Newham Green Party, the Revolutionary Communist Group, Sisters Uncut, Take Back The City and TUSC.
As demonstrators assembled in Stratford Park we heard from East Londoners affected by local government cuts and policy. Fathiya, who was pregnant, said “They tried to move me to Southend – away from my midwife and my family”. Another woman tenant said she and her children had been put in different rooms at a hostel and that, “My son is in the dark because I can’t afford to charge the light. I am working and my money is spent on housing. We were sent into the housing because we were vulnerable and now they are saying we are not vulnerable.”
Nazria described how her family had been evicted twice and she uses her experience and knowledge to help others. Lois described how “West Ham’s Boleyn ground is being developed into 500 luxury homes whilst people are sleeping under tarpaulins in Plashet park… ‘Affordable homes’? My sister is a local teacher and she can’t even afford them. Local councillors are local landlords and so are many MPs – they won’t vote for rent controls… But Jeremy Corbyn’s election represents a sea change and the tide is turning in our direction.”
Quite rightly the Focus campaign has made a strong statement in support of the right of migrants to equal access to housing, saying “We are demanding safe and secure housing for all who need it“. Yassim from the Asylum Clinic said, “Despite people being given refugee status the still being turned down by Housing Associations because their lack of English makes the rules impossible to understand.”
An undefended Foxtons estate agents on Stratford Broadway was briefly occupied by demonstrators led by Class War. After posing for photographs the occupation was magnanimously ended and the march continued, much to the relief of the handful of police present.
A focal point of the campaign is the Carpenters Estate, a pleasant, bright mix of low-and-high rise housing a few hundred metres from the Westfield shopping mall and Olympic Park, but which is only 30% occupied. A ‘regeneration’ program appears to have stalled after the decanting of residents. In 2014 Focus E15 occupied one of the blocks. The march ended with a rally on the estate where a speaker from Street Kitchen told the crowd that four rough sleepers died this week, while in Liverpool a number of homeless activists had been gaoled. He said, “This is not austerity, this class war”.