Croydon Assembly: building a campaign for Croydon residents’ real needs


By - Monday 3rd November, 2014

Sean Creighton anticipates the inaugural meeting of the Croydon Assembly, committed to working for real change locally


Ruskin House, Croydon.
Photo author’s own.

With a general election due in May next year, Croydon Trade Union Council (CTUC) believes it is time to fight back against the attacks on the standard of living of the majority of Croydonians and the running down of services they need to use, and against the obsession with enabling property developers to profit from rising prices and rents. It has therefore organised the Croydon Assembly for Saturday 15th November (10am-4:30pm) at Ruskin House, 23 Coombe Rd, Croydon CR0 1BD.

Ordinary people across the country continue to be the victims of the drastic austerity cuts justified by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government on the basis of the alleged economic mess it inherited from Labour in 2010 and the size of the public deficit. Of course, Britain’s economic problems were caused by the banking crisis of 2008. The public deficit is aggravated by the ways in which multi-national corporations like Amazon and Starbucks reduce the amount of tax they pay to the government.

In Croydon there have been massive cuts in council spending on services, a growing homelessness crisis, and a sell-out to the private property development world, pushing up the prices of houses and apartments and private sector rents. Cuts to benefits even for those in work, pay freezes and low interest rates mean the majority of Croydonians have seen their standard of living drop. The borough suffers growing social deprivation, especially in the north.

Croydon’s crisis is about more than employment, housing and the cost of living

The Labour administration elected last May faces another round of government-enforced cuts across the period 2015-18. It is therefore pinning its hopes on the alleged benefits of property development, such as the Westfield/Hammerson scheme. There will be no benefits for ordinary Croydonians other than 5,000 low paid retail jobs and further increases in housing costs.

But the crisis facing Croydon is not just about employment, housing and the cost of living. It is also about the destruction of an integrated school system, the running down and privatisation of the National Health Service, about the continuing problems of racism aggravated by the fears about immigration and about how cultural provision can reach those with little money. There are longer term issues like climate change and energy supply. And linking all these is the question of political representation and democracy, and whether the local council is truly working in the interests of ordinary Croydonians.

The Croydon Assembly event on Saturday 15th November is an opportunity for the Croydon community, campaign groups and trade unions to come together to discuss how they can work together to build an independent voice to fight for a fairer, democratic society.

Why are our wages frozen and services cut by a cabinet of millionaires?

The assembly will be opened with short addresses by John McDonnell MP, Mark Serwotka (General Secretary, Public and Commercial Services Union), Croydon teacher Philipa Harvey (Senior Vice-President, National Union of Teachers) and  Nero Ughwujabo (Chief Executive of  Croydon Black & Ethnic Minority Forum). There will be workshops on education, housing, the National Health Service, the welfare state, climate change, energy, race and immigration, the economy, culture, and political representation and democracy. This will be run on the basis of a very short introduction by each facilitator to maximise time for discussion. Key questions they may want to consider are:

  • Why are our wages frozen and welfare services cut – by a cabinet of millionaires?
  • Why must we, the people, pay for the bankers’ gambling losses?
  • What is the role of communities in tackling racism?
  • Why do the main parties insist on ‘private good: public bad’ despite all the evidence?
  • How can we combat the influence of tax-dodging corporations on government policies?
  • Why aren’t councils allowed to build ‘in-house’ the homes that low income families need?
  • How can we work towards a green economy that prevents climate chaos?
  • How can we get meaningful democracy in the UK?
  • Do we want to go back to comprehensive education? What are the alternatives?

CTUC hopes that the aims for the Croydon Assembly will include decent education and jobs for young people, a health service free from profiteers, care and dignity in older age, affordable housing and a living wage for all.

I will be facilitating the workshop on local economic development, building on the work of the CTUC working party of the council’s new growth plan which I convened.

To register your attendance: go to eventbrite.co.uk (Croydon Assembly)

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Twitter: @croydonassembly

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Sean Creighton

Sean Creighton

A former employee of and freelance project worker with community and voluntary organisations, Sean is active with Croydon Assembly, and Love Norbury Residents Associations Planning & Transport Committee. He is Chair of the Norbury Community Land Trust. He is a historian of Croydon and South-West London, and of British black, , social action and labour movement history. He co-ordinates the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History Networks. He runs blog sites covering Croydon, Norbury and history events, issues and and news. He runs a small scale publishing imprint - History & Social Action Publications. He gives talks on a range of history topics and leads history walks.

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  • RSDavies

    It occurs to me that there is a central omission and flaw within this argument. We habitually obsess about wages, rather than considering relative purchasing power. It matters not if you earn 1p or £1 per hour if that unit of current can only be exchanged for the same quantity of goods. Where it does matter is individual and collective labour competitiveness in a global market.
    If we pay ourselves £10 p.h, as a minimum we inherently add significantly to the cost of production and make ourselves less competitive.
    If on the other hand we reduce the cost of living so that our unit of currency can be exchanged for more, then we can improve our standard of living, market competiveness and life choices.
    At the heart of the problem is the cost of housing in the Southeast, especially within the M25. If we look at UK figures for income in relation to housing costs since 1970 using the average housing cost as the comparator, we would see that over the intervening decades the avg working man’s purchasing power in relation to housing has to fallen to the level of women in 1970. (Working women’s purchasing power in relation to housing has fallen slightly) Effectively a house costs twice as much today in real terms compared with 1970.
    In the immediate post-war era social housing construction was aimed at satisfying demand and largely did so, and there was no notion that tenants should have the right to purchase their rented homes, especially at a discounted rate. The 1980′s government saw an opportunity to strengthen its support by allowing tenants to buy council housing, and to reduce the role of local authorities by preventing their development of new housing stock. They argued that the market would meet demand. They glossed over that the existence of council housing was simply because the market couldn’t or wouldn’t provide decent affordable housing for poor workers.
    Property owners became incentivised by the rising costs of housing to politic against new developments, using the planning permission system to the full. This inherently provided the driver for an ever increasing gap between the haves and have-nots. While the haves thought they were doing well by this, actually they weren’t. Although they appeared better off (provided they could always realise the value of their properties), the marginalised became increasingly disengaged so anti-social behaviour and familial break down increased, and with it the cost of responding to it. Ultimately society gets into a spiral with limit public funds being directed towards containing communities that have little or no hope of being participants in the economic security enjoyed by the propertied classes, and other public services declining for the want of investment.
    Rather than argue for higher wages, which eventually will be eroded by inflation, it would be better to target reducing the basic costs of living by over-supplying the market. This means building hundreds of thousands of social housing units to be let at a rate well below the current market, close to economic hubs. This would keep wages down, enabling companies to hire more people and compete more effectively. Although some right wing individuals will rail against this, providing low cost good quality public housing is in the core interests of capitalist UK Plc as it stabliises society and labour supply, facilitates individual workers investment in skill and delivers relatively cheap workers. When wages and costs of living are kept relatively low UK would become less attractive to economic migrants who currently looking at UK’s high headline wage rates.
    But of course there will be losers, and they will be those who currently own property and are exploiting the scarcity of supply.

  • Sean Creighton

    Why not come along to the Assembly and contribute your views?