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International Socialism, January 1978


Jimmy Dixon

Profits Before Homes


From International Socialism (1st series), No. 104, January 1978, p. 31.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg, with thanks to Sally Kincaid.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Homeless and the Empty Houses
by Ron Bailey
Penguin 95p

Ron Bailey starts from a simple idea. Huge numbers of houses stand empty for years awaiting demolition or conversion. Most of them are owned by councils or nationalised industries. If they were done up, they could accommodate all the families in ‘bed-and-breakfast’, everyone who sleeps rough, and the thousands stuck in mental hospitals simply because they have no place else to go. And it would actually save money.

These facts are well known to squatters and council housing officers alike. So why are property sharks paid £50 to £150 a week to stuff whole families into a single squalid room? Why do councils buy up and vandalise great chunks of cities then leave them to rot? Why are Mr Bailey’s Housing Emergency Offices not being set up by the government?

The answer is simple. If every house in Britain were done up to make it habitable and fairly distributed there would be no homelessness. In other words, the housing shortage does not exist. But capitalism has found it necessary to create it, for all rent, and most property speculation and interest would be impossible without it.

This is what makes Mr Bailey’s perfectly sensible proposals impossible. No matter how active and intelligent the individual reformer, such changes are not made ‘in the public interest’, or even ‘to save public money’. Reforms come about for one of two reasons: either they serve the general interests of capital by raising the productivity of labour. Or they are more profitable than repression. And as boom turns to slump, old reforms are tossed out the window.

Nothing could be simpler than the workers’ councils to organise the doing up and sharing out of empty houses as an emergency measure. They are what is needed, not more ‘government programmes’. But we have to get them first.

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