By Simon Hardy The movement emerging in Lambeth could act as a model for everyone fighting council cuts across the country
Strikes, occupations, thousands of people marching against cuts – Lambeth is currently the site of some very energetic resistance to austerity Britain. Housing, libraries, local jobs, government accountability, anti-gentrification and now the new multi million pound folly of the Garden Bridge; lively campaigns have sprung up around every issue.
The south London borough has historically always suffered under a Conservative government; it is a very multi-cultural area with a strong Labour tradition. It is no different now, the cuts imposed locally are tearing into our communities and people are fed up. The occupation of the Carnegie Library for 10 days in March became a national news story and helped bring attention to the closure of hundreds of libraries across the country. The march in solidarity with the occupation saw over two thousand people turn out, the largest local protest since the Poll Tax fight.
Whilst it is no surprise the Tories in Lambeth have been almost wiped out electorally, it does bring a particular problem with it – the cuts are being imposed by a Labour council. Many of the council leaders are members of Progress, the Blairite wing of the party. Their solution to the crisis of local government is to push through the cuts, privatise and sell assets and bulldoze people's homes in Cressingham Gardens and Central Hill Estate. Residents are enraged at the lack of genuine consultation and the close links between the council and property developers like Savilles.
Affordable homes will be built which will not be affordable to local people – only to the newly enriched upper middle classes pouring into the borough as gentrification eats into the area. Now the council has agreed to the Garden Bridge, an expensive White Elephant, a folly of private investment largesse, which will be underwritten by public money in a time when children's social care services are being slashed. People are right to be angry.
Upping the ante
As a result two key battles are emerging. The first is to unite the campaigns into a movement that can significantly increase the pressure on the council. Campaigners have launched Reclaim Lambeth, which will begin with a protest on 2 July in Brixton, a movement to coordinate our efforts and strengthen our campaigns through collaboration.
After last years Reclaim Brixton demonstration there were high hopes for more coordination but this did not occur spontaneously. This time we need to make sure that the mobilisation is accompanied by getting local trade unions, the Trades Union Council, community campaigns like those over library closures and housing groups, plus left forces in the Labour party and outside it, to all send delegates to a Lambeth Assembly or Open Conference. There we need to debate and agree a plan of action to resist attacks but also to put forward a vision of what we want to see for Lambeth, London, indeed the whole country.
The second front is around Labour itself. Many local people are, understandably, deeply frustrated with Labour. Despite the variety of issues, we are all concerned about the cuts and the lack of local accountability from the Progress dominated council. Some are furious and will vote Green, some even Tory seeing them as a legitimate opposition to the arrogant attitude of the Progressites. Those of us active in Momentum are making the case that with Corbyn elected as leader, Progress might be powerful in Lambeth but they are totally sidelined nationally. We want to keep the pressure up internally to fight them every step of the way to show there is internal opposition and Progress do not speak for the vast majority of Labour members.
The challenges we face are in mobilising the Corbynista new members to get involved in that fight and to turn the Labour left out to campaigns and activism beyond the usual canvassing. We have to build a strong working class movement to create the kind of groundswell that can push Labour left and actually win the 2020 general election. This is starting to happen in Lambeth – can it happen elsewhere?