Hackney council sees itself as New Labour's laboratory for wholesale privatisation of local public services. Back in May, Catalyst reported on the attacks on council workers' pay and conditions in Hackney. Since then, in many ways, things have gone from bad to worse.
HACKNEY - FOR SALE - this offer is not available to the poor!
Address: 15 Atherden Road, Lower Clapton, Hackney
Description: Formerly a nursery, but we got rid of the kids + their whining parents. We even fibbed in court, to get rid of the squatters who had reopened it as a community centre of all things. We told the master that we were not going to sell this building but, Ha! - It is now freed up to give lots of potential for profit as a yuppie wine bar or a private health club for city workers to unwind and spend lots of their hard earned dosh.
Price: Don't bother enquiring, you couldn't afford it. In fact why don't you just move to another borough so that we can speed up the process of gentrification here in Hackney. Once you go we could make even more money from the selling off of community assets.
Over a quarter of nursery places are threatened with closure. In August, 350 council workers who refused to give up their existing contracts in favour of new worse ones were sacked. 90 community organisations had their budgets slashed. Hackney Law Centre received a 100% cut in funding, and now faces closure. The council is now about to sell off 120 community properties, including several ex-nurseries, as well as hundreds of council houses.
Union leaders continue to demand government intervention to stop the cuts - as if the government wasn't behind the drive to make the cuts and privatise Hackney in the first place. Such hollow words have provided nothing for the workers. However, fortunately, there has been grassroots resistance which has linked workers and residents together in the fight against job and service cuts. Strikes and other industrial action has been taken, by workers acting collectively without the need for (indeed, despite) union bureaucracy. As a result, over the late summer and autumn, there have been a wide range of actions by and in support of the workers.
For example, one group of concerned residents squatted a council property and set up “Nelson Bakewell estate agents” in order to publicise the disturbing extent of the cuts and sell offs. Over 50 community properties were put on display, all of which are facing sale/privatisation (contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 07752 592 740 - Nelson Bakewell are the company who act as the Council's ‘advisors' on possible sales and also stand to make huge amounts of money from these sell-offs. All complaints to: Max Caller at Hackney Council c/o 020 8356 3441).
There is little doubt that the Labour government intends to extend the privatisation strategy being pioneered in Hackney to the rest of the public sector in London, and across the country. The state is set to become little more than the provider of funds, to be channelled into private sector profit. Instead of pointlessly hoping that Labour will change its free market ways, as the TUC was doing before the war, it is clear that the example has been set by the grassroots resistance in Hackney. Only by continued direct action can we hope to reverse Labour's privatisation plans.