Why Nancy’s standing: “I want to whistleblow on austerity”

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Local prospective parliamentary candidate Nancy Taaffe was interviewed by the Socialist paper

Why are you standing?

I’m a socialist and a Socialist Party member who has fought every cut and privatisation in my home borough of Waltham Forest for nearly 30 years. I’m proud that we stood our ground when privatisation was put forward by all politicians as the answer to every problem.

I stood for parliament in 2005 against then Labour MP Neil Gerrard who debated with me and said that PFI at our local hospital was “the only show in town”. That ‘show’ has led to our stroke unit being closed and moved miles away. When the devastation caused by privatisation wasn’t immediately apparent, we made it clear that future generations would be damaged and disadvantaged by it. Sadly, I believe we were right.

I had my two children in the local hospital Whipps Cross and they went to local schools. I worked for Waltham Forest libraries for 12 years before my job was deleted in 2012 due to cuts. So I have been both a user of public services and a provider of them.

I loved my job in the library – serving local school children and the elderly who were housebound made me feel like I was doing something worthwhile. I shall never forgive those who elevated their salaries and expenses and gladly cut jobs and services for the Tories and their mates in the city.

This is part of the reason why I am standing, I want to whistleblow in the most public arena, an election. I want to tell the truth about the crime of austerity being perpetrated against working class communities and their families.

Nancy's TUSC trolly!

Nancy’s TUSC trolly!

What are your plans for the campaign?

We are outsiders who are fighting to be noticed so we’ll be as lively and imaginative as we can. We think it’s important to have a campaigning routine so we have decided to make Monday morning ‘TUSC morning’. We have our trusty TUSC trolley and our banner (erected with some bungee ropes and hiking sticks!) and we set up in key sites around the borough and hand out our bright pink leaflets. These activities are designed to make a splash, make some noise and raise some cash.

We have had four TUSC mornings so far and have been very well received – at transport hubs and the Town Hall were most local government workers are based. People have been particularly open since the election victory of Syriza in Greece.

Our TUSC committee meets once a month and is open to everybody. We have made sure to have a clear TUSC presence on local picket lines, including the bus workers and NHS workers.

We produce a regular e-newsletter called Nancy Newsflash Newsletter – a weekly diary of where we have been and what happened. Since I’ve started doing it even I’m amazed at just how much we cover in a week. We have an email list of around 200 people who receive our newsletter. Then it goes on our blog and round social media as well. I’m on Twitter and Facebook. I have nearly 3,000 followers on Twitter and regularly get retweeted by various groups from within the borough.

I have started to be invited to hustings and union meetings. I’m speaking at the London region of the FBU and I intend to speak at a trades council and college hustings.

We want to revisit as many primary schools in the constituency as possible. We feel that young families are particularly open to bold socialist ideas and we think that many of our 5,500 votes in the local elections last May came from this section of people. This was particularly because we focussed our campaign on the demand for rent control, which we will still be talking about loudly this time round.

One of our rallies for rent control - by Whipps Cross roundabout

One of our rallies for rent control – by Whipps Cross roundabout

Why is housing such a key issue for TUSC?

On the surface we are told that London has bucked the trend during this recession – that there are jobs here and life is sweet. But many (particularly young) people feel that the basic right to housing is being denied. Council homes are almost impossible to get into, buying is out of the question for most and in January this year the average rent in London was £1,418 a month – and it’s rising all the time.

TUSC picked up on this many months before the establishment politicians (who sold off council homes and deregulated rents) realised what a ‘live issue’ housing is. We held various meetings and started to raise the demand of rent control. We noticed many people stopped to sign our petition and chat to us. We’ve initiated a rent control petition, hoping to force a council discussion on the issue and we have been campaigning on the streets and outside the colleges.

I participated in the organising committee of the March for Homes in January and spoke at the start of the east London leg. In the capital many groups have been leading really inspiring campaigns for decent housing – the New Era estate and E15 mums are probably the most well-known. TUSC has supported all of these and thinks that they need to be linked up and to have a political voice – that’s why we’re raising housing as part of our campaign.

The Labour Party could make huge strides to end the housing crisis immediately. Local councils could implement rent control now. They could start mass programmes to build and renovate enough council homes to meet demand. They could write off all bedroom tax arrears. Ed Miliband could promise that a Labour government would back these councils up after the election – he’s probably guarantee a Labour victory if he did! But he won’t. Only TUSC is fighting for those types of policies.

Chingford: Meeting with Bilal Mahmood

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I, and other trade unionist TUSC supporters, visited Bilal Mahmood, the prospective parliamentary Labour candidate for Chingford and Woodford Green on Sunday 26 January. TUSC had written to all the local Labour PPCs asking them to publicly state their position on trade union rights, restoring public services and benefits, a living wage, and public ownership.

Bilal was very hospitable and made us tea and biscuits. On the issues raised in our letter he explained that his general position was one of support.

He said he supported a living wage. He was appalled at the cuts and thought that his stance against Chingford MP and secretary for work and pensions Iain Duncan Smith was imperative to stop ideologically driven cuts. He agreed with trade union freedom and supported taking rail and Royal Mail back.

However when we pressed him on how he would have voted on Trident, and the £30 billion cuts just voted through by 550 MPs from all three main parties(including Stella Creasy and John Cryer) he admitted, not unexpectedly, that he probably would have been with the official Labour Party. His words were: “I will tow the party line”.

Bilal Mahmood reflects a kind of Labour representative that believes that Labour has to be supported even if he doesn’t personally agree with them on every issue. He saw Labour as a “last line of defence”.

He explained why he had left the Labour Party after the invasion of Iraq. Along with millions of workers he was appalled that Labour could take the country to war. However, he later changed his position, and was seen welcoming Alistair Campbell of the famous “dodgy dossier” to a Walthamstow Labour Party dinner last year. He did not get the irony!

He echoed the position of a few Labour politicians that some privatisation, like the Academies programme, the sell-off of Royal Mail at a knock-down price, and generalised outsourcing of public services had gone too far. And also like many Labour politicians his conclusion was, predictably, that Labour wouldn’t be able to reverse any of these measures.

Working people in Chingford may want to get rid of the Tories, but, really, what kind of alternative does this candidate offer? This interview made us even more determined to try our best to get a TUSC alternative on the ballot paper in Chingford.

By Nancy Taaffe, TUSC prospective candidate for Walthamstow

Letter sent to Labour PPCs

The following letter was today sent to the Labour prospective parliamentary candidates across the borough from trade unionists in the local area requesting to meet with them early in 2015.

TUSC square colour

www.tusc.org.uk

To: Stella Creasy/John Cryer/Bilal Mahmood

Constituency: Walthamstow/Leyton and Wanstead/Chingford and Woodford Green

Re: Meeting with local trade unionists

Dear Stella/John/Bilal,

We are writing to you as the Labour Party’s prospective parliamentary candidate for this constituency to try and arrange a time convenient for you to meet a delegation of local trade unionists and anti-austerity activists to discuss the forthcoming general election.

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), co-founded by the late Bob Crow, is determined that working class people shall not pay for a crisis that we did not cause, and we will support parliamentary representatives who take the same stance.

That is why we would like to have a face-to-face meeting with you to ascertain what position you hold on the following issues that we believe are critical to reversing the austerity agenda:

* Trade union rights

Would you support the provisions in John McDonnell MP’s 2007 Trade Union Rights and Freedom Bill (on re-introducing protections for participating in industrial action, unfair dismissal, complaints to employment tribunals, automatic reinstatement, agency labour in industrial disputes, definition of a trade dispute to include associated employers, and industrial action ballots) and the re-instatement of facility time and check-off rights removed by the Con-Dem coalition?

* Restore public services and benefits

Would you support the reversal of all the cuts in public services and benefits that have taken place under the Con-Dems, including the restoration of central government funding of local authorities to at least the level that existed in 2010?

* A living wage

Would you support an incoming Labour government banning zero hour contracts and immediately introducing the ‘Living Wage’ (£7.65 an hour, £8.80 in London) as the minimum wage?  In the light of the TUC’s ‘Britain needs a pay rise’ campaign, do you support the lifting of the public sector pay cap?

* Public ownership

Would you support the re-nationalisation of the railways as the first step to building an integrated, low-pollution public transport system?  Would you support bringing the Royal Mail back into public ownership?

As you will be aware the above policies are widely supported in the trade union movement.  That is why we would like you to explain your views on these issues to a delegation of local trade unionists.

TUSC has accepted from its inception that there will be Labour candidates who share our socialist aspirations and will be prepared to support measures that challenge the austerity consensus of mainstream politics.  But it is also committed to standing candidates or supporting others if that is the only way a working class anti-austerity socialist alternative can be articulated at election time.

Please get back to us (reply to this email or call Unite branch secretary Kevin on 07737566167) by the end of the year with a time in January 2015 when you would be able to meet with us.

Yours sincerely,

Len Hockey                                  Unite Shop Steward

Glenroy Watson                        Chair of RMT branch 0543

Kevin Parslow                              Unite LE1228 Branch Secretary

Jenny Vaughan                             NUJ London freelance

S. Cushion                                    UCU London Retired Members Branch Secretary

Dave Knight                                 Unison Branch Secretary, Waltham Forest

Tony Phillips                                Unison London Fire Authority

Steve White                                  NUT Secretary for Waltham Forest

Nancy Taaffe                                Unite member

Linda Taaffe                                 NUT Waltham Forest Executive & Secretary WF Trades Council

Patrick Brown                              Unite Steward

Aiden Taylor                                 Unison Shop Steward

Robin Gilham                              Unite Shope Steward

And:

TUSC national steering committee-

Representatives from the Rail, Maritime and Transport workers’ union (RMT), the Socialist Party, the SWP and the TUSC Independent Socialist Network; plus, in a personal capacity, Steve Gillan , POA General Secretary; Chris Baugh , PCS Assistant General Secretary; Joe Simpson , POA Assistant General Secretary; John McInally , PCS Vice-President; Ian Leahair , FBU National Executive; Nina Franklin , ex-NUT President; Brian Caton , ex-POA General Secretary; Cllr Keith Morrell (Southampton); Cllr Don Thomas (Southampton); Nick Wrack .

Registered officers with the Electoral Commission:

Chairperson – Dave Nellist ; National Nominating Officer – Clive Heemskerk

TUSC brings activists together to demand Housing For All!

Nancy Taaffe, TUSC prospective parliamentary candidate for Walthamstow, introduces the meeting

Nancy Taaffe, TUSC prospective parliamentary candidate for Walthamstow, introduces the meeting

Waltham Forest Trade Unionist and Socialist coalition held an important and successful public meeting on the housing crisis on 3 December. The meeting was joined by four residents of Fred Wigg and John Walsh towers, Sandra Sharpe who has been fighting the bedroom tax, and several young people concerned about the situation in private renting. Nancy Taaffe, prospective TUSC candidate for Walthamstow in next May’s general election, introduced the meeting and highlighted the different campaigns that have erupted in the last year. For example, the Focus E15 Mums campaign was launched by single mothers in Newham who faced eviction from their homeless hostel because of cuts by the Labour council. The New Era campaign is fighting extortionate rent rises and possible eviction. Nancy pointed out the important role of residents refusing to move when faced with eviction. She also called for councils to use their compulsory purchase powers to forcibly take over housing when huge rent rises are threatened and transform the units into social housing.

Locally, we are at the start of a campaign to defend Fred Wigg and John Walsh towers in Leytonstone. The council is trying to force through renovations of the blocks by a private developer. Nancy called for the £10 million (that the council has said is available) to be spent on the renovations – not held hostage to force residents to agree to the council’s preferred plan (including privatisation, sell-offs and building between the blocks). Nancy said that those residents who want to move should be able to do so with the guarantee of secure tenancies and social rents elsewhere. But those who don’t want to move should refuse to go. We have to argue that social housing is a public good – when people move on to somewhere else, the housing should go to others from the community who are in housing need. The consequence of these attacks on social housing, Nancy said, is that younger people are a captive market in the private renting sector. They face completely uncontrolled rents and crippling insecurity. TUSC calls for rent control, democratic rent councils to decide fair rents, an end to the bedroom tax and a mass programme of building and renovating council homes.

Louise Cuffaro, chair of the tenants federation, chairs the meeting

Louise Cuffaro, chair of the tenants federation, chairs the meeting

Louise Cuffaro, chair of the tenants federation, who chaired the meeting, appealed to people to collect signatures on the TUSC petition calling for rent control in the borough. She said that those social housing residents on the tenants committees in the borough could potentially get thousands of signatures between them in support of private renters, who in turn should get involved in the campaigns to defend social housing. In this way, this TUSC meeting was important for bringing people with different individual housing concerns together to agree on common demands and strategy. What was universally agreed is that the Labour Party is not willing to take the types of action necessary to guarantee everyone a decent, affordable home. The movement developing against the housing crisis needs a political voice, which is why building TUSC, including through May’s general election campaign, is a vital part of the struggle.

TUSC calls for rent control and council house building

TUSC calls for rent control and council house building

TUSC campaign a success for anti-cuts movement in Waltham Forest

Campaigning on Walthamstow Market

The results
In our first time standing widely across the borough, Waltham Forest Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) gained 5,482 votes. This is a great success for our 33 candidates and all supporters and campaigners.
TUSC candidates received 3% of the overall vote, which is about 5% when adjusted for the number of seats we stood in. In High Street ward, where we stood a full slate, we got 5.2% of the vote; the same in Leytonstone with 4.9%. Our highest vote, 362 for Dan Gillman in Markhouse, means more than 11% of voters in the ward voted for Dan. That our vote held up regardless of how many candidates stood in each ward shows the real advantage of standing widely and will hopefully encourage other trade unionists and campaigners to join us next time to ensure we can contest all 60 seats.

Some of our candidates

The stand
Even before election day, the campaign was a big achievement. Working class people are told that politics is not for us – to leave it to the men in suits. So to gather 33 ordinary people who live and work in Waltham Forest to stand against all the pro-cuts parties, was a feat in itself. Our list included 5 workers from Whipps Cross hospital, 4 members of the RMT transport union (which supports TUSC nationally and also helped fund the campaign) a firefighter, teachers, young people and community activists.
We all pledged something that none of the other parties will dare to – we would vote against all cuts to jobs and services and stand side by side with the people of Waltham Forest to lead a mighty campaign against Eric Pickles and the Con-Dem government. Instead of a fight like this, Labour councillors meekly put up their hands in favour of cuts and claim there’s nothing they can do.

Preparing the cars for our cavalcade

The campaign
If election results depended purely on who had run the best campaign, TUSC would have been the hands-down winner. For months our pink ‘rent control’ banner and signs have made a splash on street corners and at stations around the borough.
Our demand for rent control to bring down rocketing rents and investment in building affordable council housing got a huge echo. We heard horrifying stories of families living in cramped, damp conditions, facing eviction for raising maintenance problems and paying astronomical sums.
We spoke to thousands of people on our rent control flashmobs, knocking on doors in our target wards and leafleting at supermarkets and schools. With relatively small numbers of campaigners and finances compared to the mainstream parties, we managed to leaflet 6 wards fully and another 3 partially. On all of these activities it was clear that the majority in Waltham Forest are sick of the mainstream parties and were pleased to learn of an anti-cuts, working class alternative.
On our final canvass, the night before the election, someone said he would definitely vote for us because we are saying what Labour leader Ed Miliband should be saying but is too scared to.
On election day we campaigned in Walthamstow Market all day and at stations across the borough at commuter times. It was clear that the campaign had made a mark – people enthusiastically wished us good luck and told us that they had or would vote for us. One woman told us she was so pleased she had met us as she wasn’t sure what she was going to do at the ballot box or if she would even bother voting. This shows with bigger numbers, which we’re sure to build up before the next elections, we could have offered an alternative to even more people.

Campaigning on election day

The future
The very good results in Waltham Forest are part of a national picture where over 65,000 votes were won by 560 candidates and one TUSC councillor, Keith Morrell in Southampton, was reelected. Given the limitations we faced – in particular a complete media blackout of the project – this is a roaring endorsement for TUSC’s clear anti-cuts stand.
We’re already looking ahead to the general elections and beyond. In Waltham Forest we will have monthly TUSC committee meetings, open to anyone who wants to help build TUSC in the area. We will continue our campaign for rent control in the borough – initially by collecting the 4,000 signatures needed to force a debate on the issue in the council chamber.
These elections were just the start.

Waltham Forest TUSC signs Save Lea Marshes’ pledge

We have committed to a call by Save Lea Marshes’ for candidates to safeguard the marshes if elected. This is the statement:

“IF ELECTED WE PLEDGE TO PROTECT GREEN SPACES IN WALTHAM FOREST. WE WILL WORK TO PROMOTE BIODIVERSITY, TO ERADICATE THE USE OF PESTICIDES WITHIN THE BOROUGH AND ENSURE THAT ALL RESIDENTS HAVE ACCESS TO WILD GREEN SPACES CLOSE TO HOME.
Green spaces are not a luxury, affordable only during the good times, but fundamental to our individual and collective health and well being. Our environment IS our community.”