“22 tower blocks in Coventry don’t have sprinklers” – a Coventry tower block resident speaks out after the Grenfell fire

“22 tower blocks in Coventry don’t have sprinklers” – a Coventry tower block resident speaks out after the Grenfell fire

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We have recieved the below article from a resident of a tower block in Coventry following the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in London. Please read and share this important article.

The disaster at Grenfell Tower in London, where a fire ripped through the 24-storey tower block early last Wednesday morning leaving a death toll which now stands at 79 and is expected to rise, is a damning indictment of the greed and profit-driven capitalist system.

It has long been clear that working class lives have never been held in anything but contempt by the capitalists and their representatives, and now – not for the first time – they have blood on their hands. The exact cause of the fire is not yet known. But the use of flammable cladding to plaster the outside of the building is believed to have been a major factor in turning the entire tower block into a deadly inferno. This is the same cladding that is banned for use on buildings above 40 feet in the USA, and is classed as a ‘flammable’ material in Germany, despite conforming to UK regulations.

What is even worse is the fact that the fire-resistant version of the cladding would have cost developers only £5,000 extra to use – that is, £2 more per square metre than the flammable cladding they did use.

Residents of the tower wrote in November 2016 that “only a catastrophic event …  an incident that results in serious loss of life … a serious fire in a tower block or similar high density residential property” would lead to changes being implemented by their landlord. They were ignored. They have now been proven right, in tragic circumstances.

The disaster has sparked huge anger amongst many working class people, leading to major demonstrations and protests which saw Kensington Town Hall stormed by large numbers of people, and Theresa May having to be bundled safely into a car away from angry demonstrators amid cries of “Murderer! Murderer!”

This has left the government in complete disarray – with May refusing to meet residents because of “security concerns”, and even having to admit that “support on the ground for families who needed help or basic informatiom in the initial hours after this appalling disaster was not good enough.” This stands in stark contrast to the way Jeremy Corbyn actually met with the residents, and who is demanding that Theresa May promise a full, independent and meaningful public enquiry into the disaster. This contrast is not lost on residents and the friends and relatives of those affected – as shown by the scenes of the angry questioning of Tory MP Andrea Leadsom when she visited people as to why the Prime Minister and other senior Tories had not visited them, whilst Jeremy Corbyn did.

The Grenfell tragedy has been one long in the making. Gavin Barwell, Theresa May’s newly-appointed Chief of Staff, who was the Housing Minister before the election, actually delayed a review into fire safety in high-rise apartments. It is also worth remembering that back in 2012, The Independent reported then-Prime Minister David Cameron’s intention to “kill off safety culture”, declaring that “we need to realise, collectively, that we cannot eliminate risk and that some accidents are inevitable”. This abhorrent contempt and lack of value for working class lives shows itself starkly with the promise from Theresa May of a £5million emergency fund for victims – the rough value of a single terraced house in Kensington, one of the richest boroughs in the country!

It has also been reported that the flammable cladding was used to help improve the view for those living in the nearby luxury houses.  We have said that they have blood on their hands – this was an act of corporate murder, and the shocking lack of health and safety standards has worried many people across the country, concerned at just how safe their own homes are.

Here in Coventry, WM Housing (which owns Whitefriars) has revealed that just two of their 24 tower blocks have a sprinkler system installed! Living in a Whitefriars-run tower block myself I noticed they quickly put up some fire safety notices inside the ground floor entrance a couple of days after the Grenfell fire. They also put a leaflet through every letterbox which confirmed our tower block did have a sprinkler installed – but in the immediate vicinity there are a total of 3 tower blocks which they also maintain. As WM Housing have said only 2 tower blocks across Coventry have a sprinkler, it begs the question as to why only one or two tower blocks out of three in the same area may have one!

The failure to have properly sorted out even these simple and surely basic standards up until now does not fill me with confidence. When I moved into the flat there weren’t even any smoke alarms installed!

Coventry Council has confirmed that it will be carrying out safety inspections in tower blocks over 6 storeys tall. However, they have exempted Whitefriars-run blocks from the inspections because they “have already provided assurances to the council that their buildings are up to the relevant fire safety standards”. Assurances are not good enough – all blocks should be inspected, along with other public buildings, to ensure they meet safety standards. Landlords in the private rented sector should also be forced to ensure their properties are safe and fit for human habitation.

We cannot afford a system which treats our lives with such contempt, and gives them so little value in comparison to those whose interests it was created solely to represent. We must have a break with this system – the capitalist system, driven purely by profit and greed, a system which looks after the interests of big business and the 1%. We must fight for socialism – to change society and run it in the interests of working class people, under whose democratic control the economy and industry would be planned. Anything less will eventually leave us with a repeat of the Grenfell tragedy.

Coventry Socialist Party calls for:

Justice for Grenfell – get the property developers and Kensington Council in the dock.

Reverse fire service cuts – fund our emergency services properly. End the pay freeze.

Inspections and a full review of safety procedures across housing, council buildings, schools, colleges and universities in Coventry. All tower blocks and schools should have sprinkler systems installed.

Campaign for all housing, private and social, to meet safety standards. No cutting corners for profit.

Organise for action, rent strikes and walkouts if our safety can’t be guaranteed – no safety means no work, no rent and no school!

Do you agree? Get in touch!

Coventry Socialists announce 2016 election campaign

Coventry Socialists announce 2016 election campaign

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TUSC activists rally against cuts

Election nominations are closed and we can now confirm that Socialist candidates will be standing in all 18 wards in Coventry for the local elections in May. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), backed by the RMT transport workers union, will be standing anti-cuts candidates across the country.

Before making the decision to stand, we wrote to every Labour candidate in Coventry and asked them to meet with us to discuss whether they would be willing to vote against cuts – cuts that will lead to the closure of libraries, public toilets, adult education centres and community centres. None of them would even agree to meet us. Ann Lucas and her colleagues have also signed up the city up to George Osborne’s West Midlands Combined Authority, without even allowing Coventry people a vote.

Our candidates include Dave Nellist in St Michaels, as well as leading trade unionists, young workers, students and community activists.

Labour’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, wants to fight austerity .We support Jeremy’s anti-austerity policies – it is regrettable that Coventry Labour Councillors have voted to implement the Tory cuts on our city with some Councillors more concerned with attacking Jeremy than fighting the Tories.

As we have done previously, the Socialist Party and TUSC will set out a programme to fight the cuts – including the use of some of the £84 million of reserves that the Council has. This could fund services and delay the cuts, buying time for the building of a mass city wide campaign involving unions, local communities and anti-cuts groups to win back the money stolen from our city by the Tories.

We will also make the case that the Panama Papers tax scandal shows that the money exists in our society for decent public services and housing for all – the problem is that it is in the hands of the 1 per cent at the top. It is austerity for us, tax evasion for the rich! That is why we need socialism.

Will you be voting for the Socialists? Can you help with our campaign by leafleting, putting up a poster or donating? If so, fill in the form below!

Record number of evictions in Coventry

Record number of evictions in Coventry

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Anti-bedroom tax campaigners prevent a tenant from being evicted

Figures released by the Ministry of Justice have shown a record number of tenants were evicted in Coventry last year. 288 homes were repossessed in the city, a 14% rise from 2014 – and the Citizens Advice Bureau has reported a 100% rise in enquiries about homelessness.

Sophie Parks, communications and marketing manager for Coventry CAB, was quoted in the Coventry Telegraph saying “The cost of living and low wages are factors but undoubtedly it is welfare reforms that are the predominant cause [of the rise in evictions].”

The MOJ figures only cover private tenancies, but last year Coventry Against the Bedroom Tax campaigners prevented two evictions from social housing properties which were caused by the bedroom tax and other benefit cuts. Sadly more evictions are to be expected with benefit cuts continuing to bite.

Coventry has become a paradise for landlords, with low regulation and plenty of students to exploit with higher rents – regardless of the consequences for communities throughout the city. The council should introduce compulsory registration for all landlords, and a cap on rents – but perhaps it’s not surprising that they haven’t done this, as at least eight Labour councillors including council leader Ann Lucas are believed to be landlords!

Coventry Socialist Party calls for:

  • No evictions here! An end to all evictions caused by benefit cuts and the bedroom tax. Join Coventry Against the Bedroom Tax‘s Anti Eviction Network!
  • Build council homes! For thousands of new council homes in Coventry.
  • End landlordism! Compulsory registration for all landlords in the city, to stop dodgy landlords ripping us off.
  • Cap rents not benefits! For a cap on rents to stop landlords milking tenants and raking in housing benefit with extortionate rents.

 

Coventry Socialists stop #bedroomtax eviction

Coventry Socialists stop #bedroomtax eviction

No evictions here!

No evictions here!

“Most people know the Bedroom Tax is a bad thing, and all parties except the Tories are committed to repealing it. But unlike the rest the Socialist Party has always made it clear we would do whatever it takes to defend people suffering its effects. Two years ago we set up Coventry Against The Bedroom Tax. We held public meetings with 200 in attendance, lobbied, protested and publicised, gave advice to many, went to tribunals and court hearings. We helped people get thousands of pounds via appeals and Discretionary Payments. We expected eviction attempts would be reached a year or more back, but Housing Associations like Whitefriars have been slow to take that step, not wanting to look like the villains of the piece.

Suddently this changed when Charterhouse resident Archie Millar phoned last week to say he was to be evicted at 10.00 on Monday. Archie has lived on St Margaret Road since 1976, becoming the tenant when his mother passed away nine years ago. He used to work for Parcelforce but is now unemployed, getting £72 JSA plus his rent via Housing Benefit. The Bedroom Tax means a £25 shortfall in that, which he’s expected to meet out of his JSA leaving him with just £47 a week to pay his bills and live on. Clearly that’s impossible and despite making some payments Archie’s £1700 in arrears. He tried everything to come to terms with Whitefriars. They wouldn’t let him move to a smaller place because he’s in arrears (talk about Catch-22!) and blocked him taking in a lodger even though that was endorsed at a court hearing. Eviction would leave Archie homeless. He tried Welfare Rights advice but all they could offer was the phone number for the Salvation Army and the RSPCA for his dog.

We couldn’t let that happen. Our resources are fully committed to the TUSC election campaign, but we got to work on helping Archie. Dave Nellist approached Whitefriars with a detailed proposal but to no avail, and we organised a protest and media coverage over the course of a weekend. We contacted scores of Party members and other volunteers and about 30 people assembled outside Archie’s house in time to confront the Whitefriars representative, bailiffs, locksmith,  and eventually two vanloads of police who took position scattered along the other side of the road.

The protesters included trade unionists, students and local residents. Some neighbours turned out because they knew Archie, others just because they know what’s right. Archie commented ‘I never knew there were so many good people around’. We packed into the front garden and on the pavement, Archie was in his house with the door firmly locked and a burly trade unionist outside! The protest was deliberately kept peaceful and disciplined to avoid the police intervening. But the atmosphere was determined and excited, with placards, the TUSC banner, laughter and chatter. The media turned up and were very helpful, filming, photographing and interviewing throughout.

Sarah Smith, a Coventry Against the Bedroom Tax organiser and TUSC candidate in Woodlands, pointed out that CABT called for Whitefriars and other social landlords to implement a non-eviction policy for bedroom tax arrears two years ago! She said “Labour claim they’re against the bedroom tax – if that’s the case, why haven’t the three Coventry Labour councillors on the board of Whitefriars stood up and opposed Archie’s eviction, and any others?”

Three TUSC candidates (Sarah Smith, Nicky Downes and Lee Cooper) join the protest

Three TUSC candidates (Sarah Smith, Nicky Downes and Lee Cooper) join the protest

The forces on the other side of the road were obviously a lot less cheerful, realising they were not going to get Archie out without a struggle and the world’s worst publicity. The stand-off continued for an hour. During that time Dave Nellist negotiated with Whitefriars, whose bosses were clearly finding themselves in an unfamiliar and awkward position, under the glare of the media spotlight, anxious to find a way out without appearing to back down too much. Finally they called the eviction off and the bailiffs’ van sped away past the protestors, to a chorus of cheers and jeers. We got Archie out, thanked everyone and ended the successful protest, proud of showing what solidarity and people power can do.

What next? Well Whitefriars are suspending their action until June now, while a long-term solution is found. This should have happened before, but Archie would have been out on the street without our action. We expect something acceptable will be found, negotiating with Whitefriars and the Council, especially in the context of the Bedroom Tax’s forthcoming abolition. But if not, we’ll be back. Media coverage since Monday has been very complete, with reports from the Coventry Telegraph, Coventry Observer, BBC Coventry and Warwick radio, Free Radio and BBC Midlands Today. The latter posted a video of the protest on Facebook which has had almost 300,000 views! They commented that this shows the action caught people’s interest and they are keen to do a follow-up to tell viewers the final outcome.

Personally I am proud of how Coventry Socialist Party responded to this sudden threat. It shows how committed and organised we are, even at short notice and when our attention was focussed in another direction. I think the successful outcome came from us being able to organise lively direct action, effective media relations, knowledge of the issue, negotiating skills and an established reputation in the local area. We use those strengths battling away all the time but it’s great when you do win! No-one who participated will forget this for a long time.”

John Boadle, Coventry Against the Bedroom Tax

You can watch some video coverage of the protest here. An interview with Archie and John is below.

Do you want to help stop future evictions or support TUSC candidates? Fill in the form below and get involved!

“No room for unfair housing!” – Coventry Socialist Students protest against dodgy landlords

“No room for unfair housing!” – Coventry Socialist Students protest against dodgy landlords

No room for unfair housing

No room for unfair housing

Coventry Socialist Students have been campaigning on the issue of sub-standard housing for months, so when we heard about a University-organised “housing fair” on Monday 21st, at which several landlords, letting agencies and student halls companies were advertising their services, we felt we had to protest!

A group of us hung a banner from the balcony of the University Hub which read “No room for unfair housing” and chanted slogans including “Dodgy landlords hear us say, rip off rents? No way!”

Kris O’Sullivan, President of Coventry Socialist Students and a candidate for SU Community Rep, spoke at the protest; “In Coventry, and up and down the country, the university experience is being ruined by dodgy landlords who are charging extortionate amounts of rent for often sub-standard accommodation, and regularly ignore the tenant rights of the student occupants.”

Coventry University has a 28,000 strong student population at any given time; however, there is only a limited amount of purpose-built accommodation for students, meaning the majority have to rent through private landlords.

The University’s security quickly came to get rid of us, but we weren’t going to leave until the landlords got the message!

Security tried to grab our banner

Security tried to grab our banner

We want the university to work with Coventry Council to create an accreditation scheme to register all private landlords, in accordance with SU policy. This in particular will benefit local residents as well as students, we should be united in fighting dodgy landlords. We also want to establish a democratic, student-run letting agency to provide students with an alternative to the existing providers. We also need thousands of new council homes to be built – thousands of Coventry people are on the waiting list, they deserve a decent place to live with affordable rents!

If you’re a student and you want to fight dodgy landlords, for decent housing and for socialism, join Socialist Students!

Coventry Socialist Students continues to grow

Coventry Socialist Students continues to grow

Socialist Students stall at Cov Uni Refreshers

Socialist Students stall at Cov Uni Refreshers

Coventry Socialist Students have further built our profile at Coventry University following a successful week of campaigning and activity.

We began the week with a public meeting on the Charlie Hebdo massacre, which around 15 students came to. We discussed the attacks and how socialists should respond to terrorism and Islamophobia. In addition we made plans to build our presence on campus, especially our flagship Housing Campaign.

On Tuesday our four Student Councillors attended the SU council meeting, and all four were nominated to various committees within the SU. We will use those platforms to stick up for ordinary students, and of course to build Coventry Socialist Students (CSS). Crucially, Kristian Sucilla O’Sullivan, Sam Kempster and Mohammed Wurie were all nominated for the Housing Committee, giving us a great opportunity to keep fighting for decent housing and against dodgy landlords and letting agencies.

Sam said ”Coventry Socialist Students are the foundation and support beams of the housing campaign and that’s never going to change, however it’s a really positive step that the campaign has been taken on by the SU and that the steering committee is comprised of both CSS councillors and SU Sabbatical Officers”.

A number of our members attended an open meeting of the lecturers union (UCU) on Wednesday, along with the National Chair of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition Dave Nellist, to continue forming links between staff and students at the university. The meeting was held by the Coventry UCU branch to bring together lecturers and workers from across the faculties under one roof to point out and discuss some of the serious problems going on behind the academic scenes.

Kristian speaking to UCU meeting on behalf of Coventry Socialist Students

Kristian speaking to UCU meeting on behalf of Coventry Socialist Students

Kristian spoke to the meeting to bring solidarity from CSS: “Students and lectures alike are being exploited in a variety of ways, from students facing overpriced sub-standard accommodation to lecturers being forced into working overtime by taking on extra admin workloads. We want to work with the UCU to bring together both these exploited groups in united struggle and point towards the real problem – the bosses upstairs.”

Four Coventry Families Threatened With Eviction Every Day

Four Coventry Families Threatened With Eviction Every Day 

Eviction-Notice

Recent figures released by the Ministry of Justice show that in the past 12 months 1,392 families in Coventry were threatened with eviction – more than four every day. This shocking statistic is part of a growing problem in Coventry and across the country, as more and more of us struggle to make ends meet because of cuts and rising living costs.

Many of these families are in rent arrears because of the “bedroom tax”, and as a result are being threatened with eviction. One of the housing associations threatening to evict tenants is Whitefriars, which has 3 Labour councillors on its board – they should be fighting the bedroom tax, not threatening those affected by it!

Coventry’s Labour Council lets landlords exploit tenants with few restrictions, and has taken no action over the growing number of eviction threats being made and the increasing problem of “landlordism” across the city. However, this is perhaps unsurprising as, according to the Coventry Telegraph, 8 Labour councillors are landlords themselves!

Anti-bedroom tax campaigners marching against evictions

Anti-bedroom tax campaigners marching against evictions

Coventry Council should be fighting cuts, not implementing them – and building decent homes for people to live in. There should be compulsory registration of landlords and a cap on rents. Now someone putting that forward would be worth voting for!