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Raymond Challinor

Lancashire Tenants

(Summer 1968)

From The Notebook, International Socialism ((1st series), No.33, Summer 1968, pp.4-5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Raymond Challinor writes: Tenants of Skelmersdale New Town Development Corporation went on rent strike for two months against proposed increases ranging from 2s 8d to 6s 4d a week. It was the authorities’ decision to take legal proceedings against between 150 and 200 tenants that finally brought the strike to an end. But, for some time before this appeared, the strike was losing momentum. More and more people were quietly deciding to pay.

For the Tenants’ Action Committee this was the big problem –communication, keeping up morale. Without a firmly established grass-roots organisation, this proved to be insuperable. In the initial stages, it had been possible to arouse much enthusiasm. In a novel way, the issue of rents was linked with broader industrial issues. The slogan was ‘Rents are too high, Wages too low.’ A token stoppage at local factories, and a march on the Development Corporation headquarters began the strike with a flourish.

The Skelmersdale Local Labour Party officially supported the strike, Labour activists being the backbone of the Action Committee. But this also created difficulties. For the strike took place against the background of a general election for the newly constituted Skelmersdale-with-Upholland Urban District, and many of the strike leaders were standing as Labour candidates. This resulted in a diffusion of strength, although it did also embarrass the Development Corporation. The Labour Party’s platform had, as its main plank, opposition to the Development Corporation, a non-elective body, appointed by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. These mandarins of Whitehall had aroused considerable hostility, not merely by putting up the rents, but also by placing the industrialists’ interests before those of the public. They are creating a new town for profit-making, not for the people. And the lack of amenities and places for recreation are sources of universal discontent. In the four-hour meeting with officials of the Development Corporation at the termination of the strike, the Action Committee wrung a number of important concessions. Originally, it had been intended that the rent increase would be followed by a further one next year – this second one was now scrubbed. Also, tenants’ complaints were, in future, to be entered in a special book. This was to replace the existing procedure where, once reported, they were quickly forgotten. An important step forward was the Development Corporation’s undertaking to establish an open market. Undoubtedly, this will reduce the cost of living appreciably, since it will end the quasi-monopoly position enjoyed by a handful of Skelmersdale shopkeepers. Either you bought in ‘Skem’ or had an expensive journey back to Liverpool to shop. Another concession, important to large families living in high-density dwellings, was the provision of allotments so that, by food-producing, the hardship could be lessened.

Regular meetings have been arranged between the Action Committee and the Development Corporation. The impression gained by the strike leaders was that the officials of the Development Corporation were shaken men. They had not expected they would be confronted with a protest by tenants of such magnitude and duration. Consequently, in future they will obviously try, as far as is possible within the existing system, to meet the wishes of the tenants.

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Last updated: 19.6.2008