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Squatting Archive - ALSF Meeting (9 Nov 73)

MINUTES of the All London Squatters Federation (ALSF) Meeting, held at Imperial College, London (Electrical Engineering Dept, Room 408), Friday 9th November 1973

approx 70 people present, representing squatters from Camden, Hammersmith, Maida Vale, Paddington, Twickenham & Walthamstow; meeting started at 20:00 (1 hr late)

Literature distributed during the course of the meeting included: Maida Vale Squatters & Tenants Association pamphlet, Twickenham Squatters Survey, Up Against The Law magazine

A: Is it ok to video the meeting, to show other squatters who are not here what's taking place? (there were no objections and much of the meeting was videoed)

Shouldn't someone take the minutes? (there were no objections, and here they are)

(B introduces the meeting)

(imediate interruptions - complaints being made about the conduct of the meeting) A non-democratic platform has been set up. / This should be discussed. / Some of the speakers who were supposed to be speaking had not been previously consulted. / Who asked B to be chairman? / Who organised the meeting? / Why are we having a formal meeting in a lecture theatre?

B: The meeting was organised by 220 Camden High Street, and was decided at the previous meeting of the ALS. A hall was unavailable except by hiring, and who was going to pay?

(various comments) We don't want to be organised. / We should squat the room across the corridor. / Then we won't be able to get another room here next time. / We want to organise a discussion on the way forward for the Housing Movement. / (lights dim & fade, degenerate conversation) Can we have the lights back on? (lights return... sporadically disappearing and reappearing for the duration of the meeting) / Can we revert to the previous format and elect a chairman. / B offers to be chairman. / We could try without one. / It will be difficult.

(the meeting proceeds without a chairman or a formal agenda) / What was the idea behind the meeting? Does the London Squatters Movement need a policy imposed upon it? Can this meeting speak for all the squatters? / Put it to the vote as to what happens next. (there is no response to a request for a vote) / Who put the names of the speakers on the list?

B: The format for the meeting was drawn up by Elgin Avenue and Camden High Street, and this serves the function of both their meeting and the ALSF meeting.

Are the people on the list our theoretical leaders? / They haven't spoken yet. / What is the agenda? / (answering the request for an agenda) Things that are happening in different places.

C (Parfett St): We are being left alone at the moment, after having been evicted and then going back.

If we exclude this meeting from the normal ALSF meetings, then we will accept it. / (some of the Walthamstow delegation leave because of the meeting's lack of togetherness) / What happens normally? / Everybody stands around and drinks beer.

People are needed in some areas - Bartholomew Road, Camden & Walthamstow - to fill houses. / We don't want "Rent-a-Squat", where mobile individuals move round to fill houses. I dislike the idea of a "Flying Squat" / (there follows a discussion on the morality, desirability & necessity of going out and looking for people in other districts to fill squats) / It is best to give addresses to organisations like BIT; lots of people phone BIT. / This was suggested at the first meeting. / BIT is not very well informed.

D (Bartholomew Rd): We've opened up Bartholomew Road and have got good media coverage and good local communication. We need a central office in order to organise. 2 people have started a militant squatting group. We have the places and the transport, but we need people from all over London; we need a central information centre.

We must beware of a strong bureaucracy. / Normally it is not necessary to go looking for people. / We don't need an Information Centre, we need weekly squatting meetings to keep people in touch within the local area, and a central point to which people who want to squat can come. / There is a Squatting Mailing List. / We must minimize bureaucracy, and we must know what the organisers are doing. / There are plenty of homeless people around - BIT & Release etc don't respond fast enough. / We need to keep what we've got; we have to work hard over a long period of time.

E (Walthamstow): We have grown from 2 people to 60 in three weeks. We occupy the top floors, keeping the bottom floor empty for temporary accomodation for those who want to squat. We then arrange for gas and electric to be turned on and on the same day move the families in. We have 15 houses occupied - there are 1000 houses empty; we need people. We have tried all the official channels. If people organise and support the new squatters, the scheme works successfully. If people are evicted, either we help them squat somewhere else, or resquat the house with a different familly; in an hour we can get 40 people together to protect a place.

We're not getting through to the homeless. / People are scared of squatters. / Squatting is insecure in the social context. / We need a central information point.

F: If people come you can always help them, somewhere to sleep, and to suss out a house, to squat it, to move them in. They have to be told about it. In squatting you can't be a landlord, because people won't stand on their own two feet. We mustn't take houses we can't keep. We mustn't solve people's problems for them; they, not us, must turn their friends on to squatting. Any hierarchy must be kept to a minimum.

Furniture is needed as well as people. / People have to move into empty houses. / We need strong cooperation between groups; at the moment it is fragmented because of communication difficulties. / GLC employees move out furniture to St Albans (Herts). They get paid petrol money, and drive round the corner to us; the council gets empty houses, the driver pockets the petrol money, and we have the furniture to move back into empty houses. / What about a furniture store? There's a warehouse available on the other side of the river for two months. / You can get furniture from the Social Services and it's possible to get it for squatters, and the SS will give money to decorate the houses. / Shelter will give furniture away by the van load, and also blankets & mattresses.

G (IMG): After April 74 councils won't have to rehouse people - an Amendment to the 1948 Act: ...attacks on squatters... Order 113... the Denning Judgement... Conspiracy to Trespass... squatters in the frontline of the working class movement... (etc - shouts heard indicating that the Marxist ideas being propagated are not to everyone's liking). There have been developments in squatting, in legal squats - the FSAS (Family Squatting Advisory Service) and the SCH (Single Homeless Campaign); the structures are fracturing and it looks as if change is likely. And there is increased squatting in luxury property such as Herne Hill and Bartholomew Road. We need to defend them; how do we get people to help fight evictions? There is an anti-eviction squad in Notting Hill. We must get local people drawn in; do it by showing them that what you are doing is in their own interest. We are fighting for houses for all. We need to draw in tenants'associations and local working movements. We need to prevent and forestall evictions. We can take over a good place as a warning to the landlord, as has been done in Shirland Road, to stop the eviction of people in Formosa Street by the Church Commissioners. Up Against The Law (UATL) is involved in providing better defences in the courts. We must try and fight it. Parfett Street shows the real way to break Order 113. UATL meets Wednesdays at Release. Mass support is helpful to force councils to use Compulsory Purchase Orders to obtain houses. We need to extend the social base for squatting - amongst students; many of them are homeless. They used to just occupy administrative buildings to pressure the authorities; in Cambridge they are now squatting. And to get support from people outside the squatters, we must involve groups like working men's associations and trade councils - for example, the Camden Trade Council will be discussing the 1974 Law. We must try and get them to popularize our ideas.

Squatters can be done for trespass in County Courts. / Old houses are fun to squat in, as opposed to luxury houses - you can do what you like in them. / With different judges you get different interpretations of the Rule. / Legal proceedings have never been regarded as a defence for squatters. You never get justice from the courts; we fight in the courts for time, and for publicity or the homeless.

H: After Order 113 had been obtained, we decided to defy the Court Order; we can go to jail for this. There has been an extension of confrontation with the law. We were evicted in the morning and guard dogs were put in. We were helped by friendly dog handlers from Herne Hill; we got the dogs out and reoccupied the houses. This position is unique in that the landlord has won the Court Case - the squatters could be done for contempt of court.

The police can't arrest them, and the Court can't investigate proceedings. The landlord must act, but the publicity of homeless people going to jail might deter him.

I (Walterton Rd): The Electricity Board tried to cut off supplies and were prevented by the squatters. We talked to the workers then went to the GLC (Greater London Council) and the LEB (London Electricity Board). The GLC wanted to demolish the area but it was supposed to be up for another six months. We took the LEB to court for not supplying electricity, and after a summons was unwillingly obtained, the LEB caved in. The GLC still doesn't recognize squatters as being there.

The GLC do recognize Walterton Road - they directed other people there. / We need to get the GLC to offer us more houses when they evict us from the ones we're already in.

J: Maybe we could get some Christmas action to draw attention to the homeless? Such as squatters taking the initiative in getting other liberal & socialist bodies and the media involved. We could make it a national thing - it would give us a lot of support and would make it difficult for people to take action against us.

It would demonstrate that squatters are not just young people, and that they are concerned about homelessness in general. It would get media support. / It wouldn't get public support; if the public cared we wouldn't have the homeless situation. It's not realistic. / Squatters are alienated from the working man. / I'm not. / We need to get people to realise the validity of squatting. / We can't just squat, sit, and wait. / It's no use saying what nice people we are and then expect houses. / Why not take over a block of luxury flats for a Christmas demo. / We need a strong central organisation. We need people to be politically conscious. Squatters should support political demonstrations then people would see we support the local workers. / We should squat houses while the police are controlling the demos. / The basic issue is, we can't cooperate (with the authorities).

F: What is the real issue? Most squatters are just into it for the free housing and doing their own thing. The working class are living in bad conditions with high rents and often little space - we're miles away from that. We're into active communities that they're not into yet; we can turn on individuals, but what are we doing? But even those we've turned on to the idea of squatting want us to be like everyone else, and would eventually like to see us settled down in little boxes and paying rent. We've got our heads screwed on, we're ok, we're not poor or hard done by; we're well done by. We don't have to work as hard as the working class to keep our places together. What does everybody want? Free rent for everyone in the country?

We want rent-free housing for all. / Should we pay rents? / I'm prepared to pay rents I consider fair - which might be nothing. / Squatting is in the interest of the working class - we're doing at the expense of the rich people. / The local people in Bartholomew Road rallied round to support us. They identified with us against the property developers. / We need lots of support. / The National Front offered us suppport on condition that we only housed English people - do we want that kind of support? / Tell them to fuck off - Housing For All! / We're not in principle opposed to paying rent. (violent objections) Well I'm not. / We want to see houses compulsory purchased so as to get socialist ownership of houses, tenant controlled with maintenance rents. / But councils won't. / We must try and make them. / We mustn't forget that the larger fabric of society is rotten. (assenting noises) / We shouldn't pay interest rates, as the money goes to the rich capitalists in the City. / Gypsies are being evicted all round the different boroughs; the Gypsy Council wants an alliance with us and said they would send one of their speakers along to our next meeting.

F: I'll contact a more militant breakaway group, the Romany Guild.

Is Christmas an appropriate time for some kind of action? / (a few people start leaving; an All London Squatters Mailing List sheet is passed round for people to put their names on) / Let's have a show of hands on whether to have a Christmas action of some sort. (4 people put up their hands, the rest ignore the request)

K (FSAS): I came to the first ALSF meeting; I haven't been to any since. There have been changes in the family squatting groups because the situation has changed. Squatting is happening all over. At the moment we are a loose confederation of groups, but at the next meeting it might be opened up to other outside groups. Some of the groups now attached feel isolated from the housing movement. We have an advisory service already operating. There is more political power in a federation and we'd like to get an active advisory service running. We hope that the FSAS office will soon be useful to all squatters. Kids suffer most; it's good tactics to win political battles but some FSAS groups already have single people, and this will grow. We ought to take up this opportunity

L (FSAS): Within the last two months the possibility of the FSAS opening up has happened. It is essential for the squatting movement that these steps are taken - to have one struggle to include all squatters.

The FSAS is being radicalised like SCH (where there has been a refusal to pay rent). / It should reflect what the actual situation is. / A survey is necessary to find out. / A survey has been done for the Twickenham squatters. (copies of the survey are handed out)

Who's to organise the next meeting? This meeting has been useful, if only in exchanging information. / Can we hold it at the Polytantric? / M should organise it, as he brought the subject up. / We'll have another meeting in two or three weeks time. / We could hold it in Walthamstow. / Or Camden? / Should we put it to the vote? / It'd be good to support Walthamstow. / It's too far away. / Can we have a decision? / M has the mailing-list, let him decide. / Shouldn't we decide now? / M shall organise it and let everybody know by the mailing-list. / Any other business? / Formosa Street needs more people to fill up the houses. / (a Grafton Road address where M can be contacted for the next eleven days is written on a blackboard)

(G closes the meeting at 22:00)

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revised 22 September 2006
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