Source: Militant, no. 105 (May 19, 1972)
Transcription: Francesco 2010
Proofread: Fred 2010
Markup: Niklas 2010
The Labour Party Young Socialists are giving a fighting lead to the whole of the labour movement, with their national housing rally in Manchester on May 20th.
The Tories are attacking the standards of the working class on all fronts—the cost of living is going up while they try and keep wages down; democratic union rights are being violated and now the Tories want to take away the last refuge—a place to live without exorbitant rents. The Tories are pushing through a bill to abolish subsidies and, with the usual double-think and double-hypocrisy of the Tories, it is being called the “Fair Rents” Bill.
That this is a vicious and anti-working class piece of legislation, is proved by the fact that subsidies to home-buyers will be continued. There will be no means test or rebates for house-buyers, but a straight subsidy, which, on average, is already far higher than that received by council tenants. Surtax payers on a £40,000 mortgage over a 25 year period, paying £3,200 interest and £278 in the last year, will get an income tax rebate of £2,414 (or roughly £46.40 a week) on the first year.
Subsidies are continued for house-buyers not because the Tories are sentimental about those sections of the working class, and middle class particularly, who have been forced to buy a house to get a place to live, but to drive even more people in sheer desperation to get into debt and to scrimp and deprive themselves, in order to have the illusion of owning a house; this is for the benefit of the landlords, bankers, landowners and big building firms. Even before this savage attack on council tenants, the price of houses has increased 52 percent in two years in Britain.
Rents will be doubled by 1976. Even in the year ahead, in spite of the government’s pretended limit on price increases of 5 percent, rent increases will be 15 to 25 percent. For the first time since council housing was introduced, it will become in many parts of the country, a “profit making activity” and the profits will be taxed by the Chancellor at the rate of 50 percent! In addition to the £100 per head which will be taken from the pockets of most working class families as a result of this Bill, there will be an increase in rates, not only for council tenants, but for all tenants.
Nor will private tenants benefit. Their rents will shoot up sky high, when what was once the cheapest sector, council housing, becomes the dearest. The price of housing will shoot to astronomical levels. It is now virtually impossible for skilled workers to afford the price of housing. As a consequence of this Bill, it will become impossible.
As Housing Minister Amery explained when justifying the Bill in Parliament, without such an Act, “by the middle of the decade, the [subsidies]…will have risen from £350 million to £600 million.” That is enough for the capitalists. Apparently this is an immense sum to raise. But of course, the payment of over £15,000 million in interest on the national debt last year, nearly five times as much as was paid in subsidies, is taken for granted. (The national debt is payment in interest for the last four wars waged by British capitalism, beginning with the Crimean War).
In the last war, the workers made payment in “blood, toil, tears and sweat”, in the words of Churchill. Now, like Shylock demanding his pound of flesh, the Tories are demanding more blood, more toil, more tears, and more sweat.
What are these housing subsidies? Of every 100p paid in rent, 80p go to the grasping money-lenders, mainly the banks as the interest is guaranteed; 10p goes to the land-owners and approximately 4p for the builders’ profits. Of every 100p paid by the tenant, 6p is the real cost of housing. If money is required for upkeep and rebuilding, it could be increased to say 10p in every 100p paid by the tenants now. The bankers and money-lenders make over £1,000 million in interest every year on council housing.
This is what stands in the way of cheap housing and low rents. It is the forces behind capitalism—the insatiable demand for rent, interest and profit. In the housing debate in Parliament, unfortunately, the Labour leaders as well as the Tories spoke as if this system was for all time.
In the discussion on housing, in Parliament and within the labour movement, the most striking feature is the failure to point out to the working people that the system of rent, interest and profit is not eternal.
In all the countries where landlordism and capitalism have been abolished—in Russia, China, Cuba and Eastern Europe—in spite of the totalitarian system, and where bureaucratic dictatorship and inefficiency prevent the maximum use of resources, rent still remains only 5 percent of the workers’ wages. Why? Because of the removal of the vested interests which stand in the way of solving the housing problem at cheap rents.
We must follow the example of our fellow workers in these countries and nationalise, with minimum compensation on the basis of need, the land, banks, insurance companies and big building firms, but under workers’ control and trade union democracy.
There are over 155,000 unemployed building workers at a time when many sections of the workers have to put up with slum housing, yet Amery, with crocodile tears, pointed to the plight of the private tenant in the borough of Camden. Thus this Tory minister uses the scandal of high rents for private tenants, not to introduce legislation to improve their lot, but to try and bring council tenants to the same terrible conditions.
The attack on the seven million council tenants is an attack on 20 million people directly, and in reality, an attack on the whole of the working class. Cheap housing is possible—but not under this system.
The working people have never gained anything without sacrifice and struggle; that is why they must shrug off the lamentations of Crosland that... “There are threats of extra-Parliamentary action on the Bill. There is talk of defiance and non-implementation. No honourable members should countenance unconstitutional action…”
It was only through extra-Parliamentary action by the workers of Glasgow, that rent reforms were brought in during the First World War. It was only mass action that resulted in large scale council house building. Mass demonstrations and mass action, including industrial action, by council and private tenants, can defeat the Tories and force a withdrawal of the Bill.
The local council elections, which resulted in the Tories, at local level, being thrown out in most of the main industrial regions, was an indication of the feelings of the working class. Labour councils should take this as a starting point.
The example of the LPYS should be taken up and a mass campaign organised to defeat the Tory Bill. All Labour councils should refuse to operate it and local Labour parties should bring together tenants organisations and the trade unions into a mass force, capable of bringing the Tories to their knees.