A few cynical eyebrows were raised last month when a bold hammer and sickle banner was unfurled from the Wyndford high rises in a haze of red smoke, declaring a community-led occupation of 600 social homes primed for reckless demolition. The Wyndford surely could not be at it again, mere months after winning a freeze on energy bills for 10,000 Scottish households. And its residents surely could not have anything in common with a bunch of communists!
Communists have always lived in our communities and defended them. More than this, we accelerate the struggle for community power, for a sustained tenants’ offensive against the landlords. This radicalism is inseparable from Glasgow’s working class, despite our legacy being systematically appropriated and rewritten by the agents of our oppression. The so-called social landlord pushing a ruthless gentrification project on the Wyndford and demolishing its iconic high rises – against the City Council’s own net zero retrofitting commitments – is Wheatley Homes.
Formerly GHA, the beneficiary of the selling off of Glasgow’s council housing stock in 2003 rebranded itself last year. They raise rents, run down communities and patronise tenants as customers in the name of a man who would rage against it. The Red Clydesider Wheatley was a socialist known as the father of council housing. Yet his legacy is bastardised through this destruction of affordable homes during an acute social housing shortage and homelessness crisis.
Not only are our communities being literally carved up, scattered and displaced at the behest of predatory landlords and developers – so is our collective memory and our culture. The meaning of Red Clydeside has faded to black and white in too many minds. Who were Wheatley’s contemporaries in fighting for a higher standard of living for working people – greats like Barbour, Crawfurd, Gallacher and Maclean – if not fearless communists who lived and died for their communities? What they stood for is portrayed as out of step with the masses precisely because it gave people the confidence to march forward in unison and rock British capitalism.
Working class Glaswegians must be conscious that we stand on the shoulders of giants. Militancy is demanded of us. Our past demands it and so does our future. If one generation of our class can’t expect decent, affordable housing – and won’t fight to win it back – that which follows can expect total immiseration as an underclass. What Scotland’s asylum seekers and record-breaking numbers of homeless are suffering right now is not a distant prospect for most working people.
Many on the left can’t fathom what preventing such a fate for the masses requires. They don’t actually want to win meaningful, long-lasting change for working class communities because it involves sacrifice. Confronting power and wrestling it back is risky business. It means parting with your own sense of self-importance and ingrained liberalism, listening to people you think are misguided, planning carefully and thanklessly, forging a broad-basis of public support and – when the conditions are ripe – taking action that is bound to arouse state repression. If the left can’t come to terms with this, it should not speak of a class war it is unfit to fight. People see through your pretensions.
Whether or not inertia and retreat into the comfortable ideological echo chamber takes hold in the face of these uncomfortable truths hinges on what you are prepared to lose. An entire generation of young workers, who have only ever felt the chokehold of austerity know we have nothing to lose but our chains. When we understand that these conditions are not naturally-occurring, but contingent on political decisions made by the capitalist class, we avoid erring in hopeless nihilism or division. Instead we embrace the kind of anger that only poverty breeds and channel it in the direction of injustice.
A natural monopoly in private hands is robbery. This goes for housing as it does energy and all public goods and services. People in the Wyndford know that a united, central focus on community power and affordable, warm homes for all supersedes individual identities. Our community is made up of genuine and sharing people – some continue to open their doors to Ukrainian immigrants.
Yet the BBC portrays our scheme as drug-infested and home to criminals. If that’s the kind of story they’re after, they should investigate their friends in the Houses of Parliament. The Wyndford Residents Union is a campaigning tenants’ organisation led by a tight-knit core of organic leaders and diehard activists – mostly women. This is another aspect of Glasgow’s great working class tradition that must be recovered and defended before it is eviscerated along with our built heritage.
Women are at once the vanguard and the backbone of our class. No wonder then that in today’s toxic right-wing political climate, their rights are being ripped up as part of the same authoritarian agenda that is smashing the right to social housing, the right to strike and the right to protest. Just as we reject the encroachment of West End suburbia on our proud working class schemes, we reject the encroachment of identity politicians on the hard-won rights of women and girls.
This existential threat to working people and their families is perhaps the most urgent. Women exist and are super-exploited under capitalism as workers and because of their sex. The litmus test of the left and its fitness to lead the working class is whether or not it recognises this fact and frees itself from the madness of liberal policy capture.
But we don’t have the luxury of waiting for would-be allies to catch up. Now is the time for the people to take matters into their own hands. To unite in the workplace and the community. Because you cannot modernise industries through less jobs, more hours and declining working conditions, and you cannot modernise communities through less homes, higher rents and declining living conditions.
To the court of public opinion: who are the real criminals in the case of the Wyndford occupation? The 6 arrested on vandalism charges for allegedly forcing their way into vacant flats, or the social vandals forcing the demolition of all 600 of them?
To the greedy landlords, the speculators and developers, the entire propertied class: expect us. To the broad movement, I echo Lenin:
“Subservience to spontaneity seems to inspire a fear of taking even one step away from what is “accessible” to the masses, a fear of rising too high above mere attendance on the immediate and direct requirements of the masses. Have no fear… we stand so low on the plane of organisation that the very idea that we could rise too high is absurd!”
The struggle for council housing is the struggle for popular sovereignty. Revolutionary optimism and community spirit will carry us through. Local agitation and solidarity can have far-reaching global implications. If you doubt us, you doubt yourself.
When the Wyndford wins, we all win.
Sean O’Neill, is a member of the Wyndford Residents Union and the Young Communist League.