approx 65 people present; meeting started at 20:00
Literature distributed during the course of the meeting included: Jay Mews News No 2, two leaflets on women's squat in St John's Wood
Things left behind included a tan polo-neck sweater, last heard of being looked after by the landlord of The Roebuck
St John's Wood
A: Six women in a GLC (Greater London Council) house are appearing at Marylebone County Court on Monday 10th December. Will anyone come and give support? - 'cause the press will be there. Tory MP Drayson (Skipton) has been allocated the house. He already has a house in Yorkshire, a freehold property with tenants in it, and a leasehold house which has been CPO'd (Compulsory Purchase Order taken out on it), the last two in Swiss Cottage. He's entitled to equivalent accomodation (for the CPO'd property).
That's not true in East London.
A: In an interview for Weekend World (radio program) other tenants next to him said that they had not been offered equivalent accomodation. Gladys Dimpson (Chairman of the GLC Development Committee) offered us keys to another squat if we moved out quietly on Sunday (9th Dec).
Why not offer the keys to the Tory MP?
A: His wife freaked out when she came round and found us there. They worked very fast; it only took them 3 days.
The GLC have offered other properties to people squatting.
A: Should we have accepted it?
A: Housing for single women is our thing. The house we were offered was probably not going to be up for long. This house we're in had been vacant 18 months. They say it's owned by the ILEA (Inner London Education Authority); We're defending ourselves.
Do they know your names?
A: They've got some of them wrong. We've put in affidavits based on (i) legal points, & (ii) political statements.
Have you got a solicitor?
You should have.
A: The judge doesn't have to let us speak.
They usually do. / It depends on the judge.
A: One legal point we might have is that he is the tenant, and therefore it is he who should bring us to court.
No, it is the owners, who are the GLC. / You shouldn't try a legal defence otherwise the political reasons are lost. / But they might win on a legal point. / This is unlikely now that the squatting laws are tightening up. / Can as many people as possible try and get there? / Who's the chairman? I think that this case is very important. There are two issues raised: (i) why does a Tory MP get a council house - they don't usually like that sort of accomodation, & (ii) single women are not at present seen as deserving cases. Therefore this case should be used for political purposes. Why wasn't the Tory MP asked if he wanted the other house? Therefore demand alternative accomodation publicly and when they give one, squat other people in it. / It can be said in Court that you have been offered other property.
A: Should we defend this house if we lose the Court Case? We feel very isolated in St John's Wood; there aren't many other squatters in this area, but there's lots of empty property.
Can you expect support from the neighbours?
A: No, but the Tenants' Association have been very supportive.
Tonight there was a meeting of the CPI which discussed squatting. They decided it was an important part of the Class Struggle (laughter). They have decided to change their policy; it would be worth your while to get hold of local people around St John's Wood.
A: We have.
Could you repeat where the picket is?
A: Ten-thirty am December 10th, Marylebone Road.
Should we bring placards?
A: We have leaflets.
220 Camden High Street
Can anybody speak about this?
B: I could. Has anybody else been there recently? One of Joe Levy's representatives came round and suggested people went. He hinted that the next morning he would be back; probably Joe Levy thinks it is weaker than it is. The next morning we had a demo there with the press present but no representative from Joe Levy showed up. There was a meeting there the following evening to organise the defence of squats in Camden. It was decided to have a meeting of all the groups who use 220. I'm surprised nobody from 220 is here.
Are they dominated by the interests of the IS? (International Socialists) / (laughter) Wrong group!
B: That is completely wrong.
The IMG (International Marxist Group) then?
B: One person living there is a member of the IMG, but a lot of groups use it.
I was there when it was taken over by a "flying squad" of squatters. There was a meeting of Labour Councillors about 220 Camden High Street. It was proposed that it should be seized and opened up for the people, but it has been taken over by politicos; the doors have been locked, and the decisions are being taken by the people living there. You're doing Joe Levy's work for them; it should be given to the people.
B: Say what you want to them, not us. There is only one IMG person there. The shop is open as often as possible; if you're willing to volunteer then do so.
I am. / (chairman voluntary leaves the chair to make a comment) It is difficult to cope, after being told by straight left groups that we are reformist and liberal. It is hard to cope with the onslaught of Marxist mechanics swamping local politics. You wish to impose and take over. We are trying to work out a way forward from experience and interpret it; mechanical slogans get in the way.
B: I'd say 'bull-shit!'. People here are capable of working things out for themselves. We need maximum unity and concerted action to defend what we've got. We're all fighting for a roof over our heads, and to defend others doing it.
They're doing a Joe Levy of their own. I'm prepared to evict Trotskyites from a squat. You should come out from your fossilised... selling your people down the river.
B: What are you doing about it?
Squatting. What are you doing?
I don't believe it. Is the meeting at 220 going to be open?
They want to make the meeting more open. It is a worthwhile place, worth defending. / Has legal action been taken?
B: No, but Joe Levy might be thinking of it. The best thing is that everybody should go to the meeting.
A lot of different groups use it. They have a telephone answering machine there - I've used it. Funny little Trots - all you want is a free IMG bookshop. Why don't you open the shop?
B: There is no telephone there.
(further inconsequential squabbling over the existence, or not, of a telephone answering machine at 220 continues; the majority of the meeting seemed to feel that the critic was a little mixed up on this point; no vote was taken...)
84 Bartholomew Road
C: This was taken back by the owner last weekend.
C: Can we wait and put it later on the agenda?
Bow (Lawrence Road) & Tower Hamlet Evictions
D: A week last Wednesday in Tower Hamlets, the Borough Council tried to evict people from four houses. They got into three and workmen smashed up the bogs and the baths; two of these were too badly smashed up to be resquatted. In the other one the squatters stopped the council workmen from getting in. There was a packed Council Meeting. They have a policy to knock down short-life property to avoid vandalism, squatting, problems of short-term letting, and the costs of maintenance. There was a deputation to the Council supported by the FSAS with the press attending, because the All London Boroughs Association are proposing to knock down these properties. Therefore the FSAS and squatting would be eliminated, unless we all get caravans (laughter). At the Council Meeting, at the first interruption, they stopped discussing it. We must fight it at the political level.
Squatting is under discussion at the All London Boroughs level. / It started three weeks ago. It could be adopted by the All London Boroughs quite quietly. Through squatting, homelessness is brought out into the open. If there was no squatting, homelessness would be hidden in Part Three Accomodation and bed & breakfast places etc. Squatting has contributed to the change in consciousness about the homeless. Therefore each area should investigate what is happening there. / They will probably start it straight away. / At the Hillingdon Conference, the councillors saw the homeless as people who didn't fit in. One even suggested that conscription should be brought back to solve the problem of the homeless. Their private and public faces are quite different; they see homeless people as having personality problems and inadequacies. If the council property is knocked down there will be no place for the militant struggle. Seizing property throws the State into confusion. / There are still plenty of private homes. / (loud ringing speech) ...every flat must be seized, we must fight, we must struggle...
It is now nine and a half weeks since the Parfett Street evictions, and everyone went back there prepared for the courts and prison if necessary; and we're all just still living there to date. Therefore one can defy a High Court Order. / There is plenty of private property about; why bother with council houses? / The Council Waiting-List (for being given council houses) is a con. Have you ever been on one? / It's just lying propaganda, the Council Waiting-List. / Tower Hamlets is playing a two-faced coin, offering 1 out of 20 houses to the FSAS, and at the same time gutting other houses. / It is playing one group off against the other. / You only get bad houses anyway. We got 30 houses, after six weeks of negotiations, out of 5000. At the first meeting with Gladys Dimpson, where houses were offered to the FSAS, 30 out of 50 were offered to Tower Hamlets. / Regarding the Waiting-List, it is very important who is taking houses off who. We must get our own propaganda going. We're not taking houses off anyone else. / Some squatters feel that when they move out, homeless families are moved in. / They should open up their other houses. / What preparations are being made at Tower hamlets, and how are we going to get other support? It is one of the first places to definitely oppose squatters. / It needs an All London Meeting. / You mean arrange a special one? / We want to know whether the idea is floating around other councils. We need information from as many other groups as possible. / And with the Gypsies. / Whoever sends out the next mailing-list, can they ask people to find out what different councils are doing.
E: Me and my family were evicted on a HIgh Court Warrant by the local police. We fought for about an hour. We got no other support from other local groups, which sickened me. We lost the fight, but we gained a small victory bacause the Council moved in an Indian family, and the house is now being used as temporary accomodation. They didn't smash it up. We're now squatting round the corner. I want to know of similar cases where the police have carried out evictions.
When the police break in we dial '999', 'cause they're still 'breaking & entering'. / It sounds like the police broke the law, but you'll get nothing from the courts.
E: They phoned for reinforcements, and there were no more policemen left down the local station. If we had another dozen people there, we could have beaten them. We phoned up Parfett Street and Tottenham, but no-one came. On the next news-sheet we could have a list with telephone numbers etc. We have photographs which we produced in Court, and the judge advised us to take out a private prosecution against the Council. What do people here think? There were no prosecutions for assaulting the police, but they realised they were in breach of the law. They arrested 8 or 9 of us, and left us in the black maria (police van), and only the women and children were left in the house. The police just walked past them. We forced them to put another family in, on the spur of the moment. But we're trying to close the hostels down and if they had told us about this, then we would've moved out.
They could have moved the family into the house that you squatted.
E: They moved in an Indian family, and the local tenants said: "Why have they moved a wog family in after moving a white family out?"
What's the reaction in the local hostels?
E: Apathy. They're beaten down by the Council. They should close down the hostels.
It is getting harder to control squats from actual evictions. It used to be embarrassing for the landlord to have to evict women and children. Now the police are doing it. / Is it illegal? / Yes, but you can't do anything about it. / Can the NCCL (National Council for Civil Liberties) help? / They're probably not the best people to help. / They can use the obstruction law. / We're wasting our time seeking our remedy in the Courts of Justice. / We should get publicity. / What publicity? What good does the publicity do? / We should discuss the mechanics of getting people to help anti-evictions. / That's what the mailing-list is for. / But you need to get the local area contacts sussed first. / Do people want to discuss Communication? / Yes.
If places are going to be defended, other people who are going to defend them must turn up. / What we are up against is on-the-spot evictions, with no notice given. / Probably it's better to have weekly meetings. / No. / Some tenants see squatting as the end of an area, rather than the start of the fightback. / Every area must defend itself initially. Every area must get local contacts, and work out where they can go to help others. Herne Hill and Maida Vale meet every week. We need a central telephone system. We need publicity and communications both with other squatters and with the press. / We don't know when they're coming. / But the press should be told beforehand; you usually know. / In Parfett Street we had to all chip in together to get a phone. You need a phone. / Everybody put up their hands if they've got a phone. (15 people put up their hands) / In Parfett Street we have two phone lists: one for the press, and the other for support. You have to build up your own lists. All the news desks for the press are in the Yellow Pages. / Only local press turned up when we phoned. / A special story is needed for the nationals to turn up, such as dogs. / The press didn't turn up in Bow.
Electricity (Walterton Road)
F: We are like Tower Hamlets. The GLC are trying to destroy 12 houses, containing 100 people, to create temporary space. They have no further plans. The GLC got the LEB (London Electricity Board) to stop supplying us. The LEB said that they had been told by the GLC that the houses were being demolished. The GLC said that they didn't know we were there. Most of the houses were taking electricity illegally. We then offered them deposits. The LEB said that they could not accept the deposits as the GLC had refused them permission to enter the houses in order to reconnect. We decided to take the LEB to court. It was hard to get a magistrate to issue a summons. We avoided eviction by the GLC by finding out their plans for the area. They told us they were going to start demolishing the houses in two weeks. They told us a set of lies. When the Paddington Law Centre got in touch with them, they said they hadn't got any plans. They have sent demolition workers round to look at the property and have asked us for our names. We've got the support of our local Labour councillors, and have had a good press as well as two radio interviews. The LEB climbed down when we took the summons out. They said that they were prepared not to cut off supplies, but would like to inspect the properties. The GLC were preventing them entering only for the purposes of reconnection. There was an inter-council dispute between the GLC and Westminster. We have 25 families and Westminster realised that they couldn't rehouse them all. So they told the GLC not to evict us. The LEB have now redecided to cut us off and have said that if we take them to court and win, they'll appeal. They have asked for a postponement of the hearing. We don't know whether they are bluffing, or whether they just want time to get their case together. They said that they won't disconnect us until the case is settled. They will probably take it to the Appeal Court in order to get a precedent. They are not keen to cut us off legally or illegally because of our local support. We have to decide whether to take it to the courts, and if so, whether to take it on the 17th of December or whether to have it postponed. If we hold back 'till January, we will be able to get a better case together with our own barristers, and it will give us longer time living there. Their defence is that the circuits in the house are dangerous - in which case they should tell us, that there is no precedent for this situation, and that the GLC will not let them reconnect.
Is there grounds in law for the GLC to stop the LEB from entering the premises? / It's better to see the FSAS for further legal advice.
F: There are 8 houses applying which have paid their deposits and are now asking to be reconnected, but the LEB are saying that the GLC won't let them enter for that purpose. They haven't told us that the circuits are dangerous.
Is there a precedent for a case being dropped? In the Bristol squat we occupied the SEEB (South Eastern Electricity Board) showrooms, and when we were thrown out by the police we went back again. When we were thrown out again, we went back a third time. So we just turned the electricity on illegally,, and when they came round and turned it off we just put it back on again. They don't want to take us to court. / Now they seem to want to go to court in at least one squat. / You could go and tell them that you have made an emergency reconnection and send them the meter reading. / But they told us that we had reconnected illegally.
F: The GLC has actually written to the LEB to tell them to stop supplying us.
Islington Council now immediately tell the LEB not to connect, otherwise they will be trespassing. Now we send them cheques which they send back. In a court, between the Trespass Law and the Electricity Statute, the Law of Trespass will win. / Do the All London Squatters want Walterton Road to go ahead with their case?
F: It would get massive publicity, whether we won or lost.
That sort of publicity is not worthwhile. / In the eyes of most people in London, ordinary people are not the same as squatters. / Keep it local until there are some other cases, and then make it eclectic.
F: We have engaged a barrister who will take the case, but we haven't talked to him yet.
Should we take a vote now, or wait 'till the next meeting by which time they will seen a barrister? / (a beer-mug is passed round for contributions to pay for the hire of the room and to cover the cost of the mailing-list postage) / What is the point of taking the case on the 17th of December, and not postponing it?
F: Because if they want a postponement, it may be to our advantage to have the case early.
It is best to leave it to the barrister. / (then follows a brief discussion on the merits of the particular barrister) / Can we have a vote as to whether we think it's a good idea that they take it to court? (a vote is taken: for taking the case to court - 12; against taking the case to court - 16)
F: It is unlikely to go to court on the 17th anyway.
This should be the first item on the agenda at the next meeting. / (the beer-mug goes round again as the money collected on the first round wasn't quite enough to cover the cost of the hire of the room - eight pounds?)
G: There are more full-time bureaucrats being taken on by the FSAS. They are also changing the criteria for membership of the FSAS. They have a different formula: any group using empty property that makes attempts to get agreements, as long as there is some type of group organisation. If the groups which are here tonight apply it could set a precedent.
What is the advantage of joining?
G: One example is at Tower Hamlets, where the FSAS is getting flats and the council is continually playing off the FSAS against the local squatters.
Surely the FSAS will not be recognised as it will be too loosely structured? / Will the FSAS be handing out money from the 10,000 pounds it just got? / It is necessary to fight against any attempt to divide the homeless, and the FSAS have been used in this way. It would be useful in areas where they think it appropriate, and when the policy of the FSAS can be affected, and to help stop the division of the homeless. It could also speed up developments inside FSAS. / Because of rejections by the squatters, the FSAS have been looking at themselves critically. / We got into SCH (Single Homeless Campaign) and used the funds to help squatters. / This is known as working against the system from the inside. / There are lots of people in all localities who will not squat. Any homeless families who want a place will eventually want an agreement, for the security. / What is the relevanceof squatting to ordinary people? / We need cooperation between the different groups. / We should be suspicious of the FSAS.
G: If different groups had closer links, there would be less chance of playing one squatting group off against another.
The FSAS in Hackney has been set up by social workers who want people to rely on them. They don't want people to organise themselves. / I went to an FSAS meeting and got kicked out. / The FSAS is changing.
Someone wants to talk about a food coop. / We would combine the different ones. / What about distribution difficulties? / Where do we get the petrol from? Railton Road has a cheap food coop - via the Women's Centre. / The more people that are doing it, the easier it gets. / You can't do it London-wide. / Yes you can. / (outbreak of general mumbling) / There's the Charrington Road Food Store, which is squatted.
(meeting collapses, disintegrates, & fragments into small groups, cozy chat, & lively discussion)
(payment for hire of the room is made; sheets of paper passed round for ALS mailing-list, and also ten phone numbers of squats with transport available collected in the event of help being needed in an emergency; next meeting arranged to take place in The Roebuck, 6th Jan 1974)
(meeting closed 22:45)