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International Socialism, Spring 1967


Ian Macdonald

Islington Tenants


From The Notebook, International Socialism (1st series), No.28, Spring 1967, p.4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Ian Macdonald writes: Tenants’ work in Islington has been concentrated on two fronts, private tenants in multi-occupied terrace houses, and Council tenants on estates run by the Greater London Council (GLC). An attempt about a year ago to form a united committee of all tenants’ associations in the Borough, with trade-union participation, collapsed. Islington Borough Council tenants moved off and formed an alliance with the Ratepayers’ Association (controlled by one Lomas, who calls himself a New Liberal, but, as a small businessman, anti-trade union and racialist, is probably closer to fascism). Other tenants’ associations preferred to remain in isolation, fighting to have the crumbling Victorian tenement blocks in which they live taken over by the local authority and demolished. One of these is the Poplar Street TA (its Secretary, Harry Symon, claims he can sit on his lavatory and fry an egg on his cooker). The other, Beaconsfield Buildings TA, has, after many marches and protests, achieved a large degree of tenants’ control in their block, known locally as ‘the Crumbles.’ The GLC has now bought it and families are being moved out and rehoused in accordance with the priorities laid down by the TA.

IS members have been trying to plug the gaps and organise where little or no organisation has previously existed. On the private tenants’ side, the main activity has been through the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination (CARD), a branch of which was formed in Islington about 15 months ago. Among private tenants in multi-occupied premises and particularly among coloured tenants, high rents and very bad conditions are almost universal. Until the passing of the 1965 Rent Act, slum landlords had a free run. Any tenants who protested were out on the street. Some landlords still try these tactics, and the legacy of a deeply entrenched fear still remains with a majority of tenants. Nevertheless, the Rent Act has, on the whole, enabled tenants to organise and to fight back with the law on their side.

The CARD campaign concentrated on organising the tenants of one particular landlord (De Lusignan, owner of some 25 houses in north London, achieved temporary fame by calling her tenants ‘Rubbish People’) around two issues: rent and conditions. The rent campaign was successful and rents have been cut generally, both for furnished and unfurnished tenancies. The fight against bad conditions failed. It is true that some minor patchwork repairs have been carried out, but Councils, Islington included, still refuse to requisition De Lusignan houses by making five year control orders as asked. All the Council seems to do is open some 30 new files and send health officials scurrying round the Borough telling tenants that the conditions they live in are not so bad and the Council is doing everything in its power. This Cathy Come Home attitude of officials is scrupulously observed in Islington.

The activity on GLC Council estates in Islington is only just beginning. GLC tenants face rent rises both in January and October 1967. This is the issue around which it is hoped that tenants can be organised. But there is also a fight against the bureaucratic control of the Housing Manager at County Hall. In addition, there is the problem created by the alliance of the Islington Borough Council tenants and the semi-fascists. The break with the semi-fascists can only come when there exist rival tenants’ organisations with a real popular base.

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