Once upon a time, when many of us now in the CPGB-ML were members of the Socialist Labour Party, there was a party congress held at Conway Hall, that gloriously shabby “home of lost causes” , where a comrade involved in the Defend Council Housing campaign got up for his three minutes of exhorting the rest of us to defend council housing.
Anyone present on that day may remember that Arthur Scargill sat on the debate by saying (more or less) that “council housing was no longer a working-class issue as they’ve all bought their own houses now”. This brought out an angry roar, as there were plenty of SLP members involved in Defend Council Housing; however, Scargill had not actually completely lost the plot.
As far as the traditional working class is concerned, particularly in London, very few, apart from the old, the almost old and the downright unlucky, live ‘on the council’ any more – partly because the better-paid council house dwellers took advantage of the ‘right to buy’ when Thatcher gave them the chance; and partly because the allocation policies pursued by all councils in the last twenty years have only given out council housing to the socially marginalised. Scargill was right that the working class now buy their own homes. They have to unless they want to be homeless; however, that does not mean that housing itself can be ignored as a working-class issue.
Without abandoning the need to support Defend Council Housing and its fight against privatisation (as well as the need to improve and expand council housing), the fight to make owner-occupation truly accessible and affordable is also a working-class struggle.
Recently, with no option but to buy, a working-class couple has typically had to spend a third of their joint income to purchase a flat or tiny house (too small for a family and up to fifty miles away from their work). In the last eighteen months, house prices have shot up so much that a working-class couple now typically has to spend 50-60 percent of their joint income on either their mortgage (if the flat or house is outside London) or (if it is in London) on one of the government’s complicated new part buy/part rent schemes designed to ‘squeeze the poor till the pips squeak’.
With such huge outgoings on housing (and the transport costs that go with only being able to get a home miles away from work), it is of course problematical for the working class to have children.
Marx pointed out that capitalists had to allow workers a wage sufficient for them to have the strength and wherewithal both to produce goods for the capitalists and to reproduce themselves to supply workers for the capitalists in the future. Were Marx to come back from the Great Communist Meeting Hall in the Sky, he would make an addendum. Capitalists in the present-day imperialist countries do not need to allow for their ‘own’ working class to reproduce, as the working class today can be reproduced cheaper elsewhere and imported when fully grown (or, equally if not more likely, the capital can be exported to where the cheap labour is).
Along with the free movement of capital comes the free movement of capitalists. London is now swarming with the mega-mega wealthy who want an address in Britain. Under the present tax regime, a foreign mega-rich man who only lives six months of the year in England pays no British tax, and if, instead of going ‘home’ (wherever that is) for the other six months of the year, he wanders about the world’s playgrounds, he can avoid paying much in the way of tax anywhere else too.
These cash buyers are not to be found among the thousands of poor immigrants coming into Britain, but the enormous number of foreign crooks. London is a magnet for all the mafiosi of the world; and they do not come for the museums and the debates at Gresham College, but because the tax regime in Britain is perhaps the most attractive for the filthy rich. The number of these people and their henchmen is unknown – the government does not keep such statistics (and, besides, quickly gives them British nationality); but, anecdotally, we all know that London is the Mecca of the Russian mafia, and the cash these people alone have for buying housing – and football clubs – is highly inflationary.
No wonder all the wealthy parasites in the social pages of the glossies ‘just love living in London’. A lot if us would ‘just love living in London’ too, but fewer and fewer of us have that option. The old Social Democratic Federation, which boasted Eleanor Marx as a member (briefly in 1884 and then again from 1896 until her death), had a little saying: ‘The glamour of wealth disguises its crime’. In the present climate of money-worship, the Russian mafia billionaires, who gained their wealth by looting the assets and pension funds of the peoples of the former Soviet Union, almost seem to be accepted by the working class as a necessary for the continuation of football as we know it! However, they are one bunch of immigrants that should be hounded out of the country – all the way to Siberia.
> The housing hydra – April 2006