On the Fightback Against SERCO Evictions
Sean Baillie and Joey Simons from Living Rent explore the issue of housing, SERCO and civil liberties.
The situation we are facing in Glasgow today must be seen as a turning point, or else we must turn it into one.
As a tenants’ union, we will not allow this brutal attack by Serco on some of the most vulnerable people in our city to become just another episode in the shameful history of housing in Glasgow.
Our position as a union is clear: We are against all evictions regardless of who is being evicted; we are against homelessness; we are against the victimisation and intimidation of tenants by those who hold power, wealth and property in their hands.
The Home Office has handed hundreds of millions of pounds of public money to Serco – a giant multinational, a company who views detention centres, prisons and housing for victims of war and persecution as only some many sides of the same giant charnel house of profit. For years, Glasgow City Council, under all political parties, has seemingly been content for thousands of asylum seekers to be placed in the poorest areas of the city, creating heightened tensions and perceived competition for housing and services among those who need it most.
All while they have courted money, investment and contracts which have lined the pockets of developers and speculators. This can be seen with the massive expansion of purpose-built private student accommodation and the Scottish Government’s Rental Income Guarantee scheme (RIGS) which promises to throw millions of public money behind private landlords who feel they are not receiving their projected profits.
The news this week is not a bolt out of the blue but the culmination of a policy of forced destitution, community abandonment and racism, of a hostile environment which despite many fine words to the contrary has also been allowed to dominate in Scotland. For months we have been meeting with the Asylum Seeker Housing (ASH) project, an organisation that seeks to directly negotiate with housing providers such as Serco to improve the living conditions and maintenance of the properties they manage.
We first experienced the dire conditions of Serco-managed properties during our neighbourhood drive in the south of the city where full tenement closes were left derelict and ruined. Through old-fashioned door knocking we managed to talk to the only home owner in the building who explained that the majority of the flats were rented by Serco to house asylum seekers and neither Serco nor the private landlord owners of the flats had much drive to remedy the problems as longs as public money continued to flow.
We had agreed to support the ASH project as practically as we could, where we could.
Following these discussions we had already committed to support and work with any groups fighting for decent housing for those seeking asylum in Glasgow. The news that broke over the weekend only forced our hand further and quicker than we had imagined.
Since the start of the week our members – who are all renters both from private and social landlords, workers and those who have faced eviction and destitution, those who have won massive rent decreases and those who have had to fight tooth and nail to get serious repairs done – we have been working round the clock determined to ensure that as a union we will not only stand shoulder to shoulder with those seeking refuge in our city but that we will do all it takes to defend their right to safe and secure housing.
Our statement read:
“Living Rent is clear:
We are calling for resistance to all evictions by any and all means necessary, regardless of any attempts to render them legal or otherwise.
We are calling for absolute opposition to forced destitution and homelessness on our streets. We are calling on all landlords, housing associations, councillors, social services or any other body in Scotland not to accommodate Serco’s mass eviction policy in any way. The only hostile environment should be the one Serco face, wherever they show their well-fed bellies and armour-plated vans!
And as a tenants’ union, as a union committed to building neighbourhood power:
We are calling for a wholescale programme of community engagement in Glasgow, to challenge the hostile environment that has been created. Not through mealy-mouthed promises, not easy words made in front of the cameras and quickly forgotten, not through inquiries or pledges, but through action.”
Since then we have supported and met with the organisers of Tuesday’s demonstration, spoken to politicians and party members from the SNP, Greens and Labour, built alliances with organisations and groups on the frontline in the fight for immigration justice and collected over 3000 contact details from ordinary people resolute in their own belief and power to stop these criminal evictions.
We heard the various stories of how Serco is run by those close to landed gentry and political powerhouses of the British establishment,
Some of these tales may have been embellished, some a warning and some a threat, but Serco must realise that Glasgow is no mean city, our people have a history of fighting for what is correct and just, being rough and ready and hard but fair.
We have a history of neighbourhood resistance and a culture of working-class victory against all odds, from Mary Barbour’s army and the Rent Strikes a decade ago, through the Upper Clyde work-in, the anti-poll tax federation and the anti-dawn raids campaigns of a decade ago. Make no mistake, Serco have picked on the wrong city to try to intimidate.
On Tuesday 100 of these fighters helped us to deliver a “people’s notice to quit” signed by ourselves and the Unity Centre. It stated our opposition to these evictions, offered a meeting to discuss the situation to find a suitable alternative but also promised widespread community-led civil disobedience should this abhorrent plan go ahead.
Serco housing officers refused to acknowledge or give written receipt of our letter, going as far as to request Police Scotland remove our members from their office. A strange irony given the sign-on-receipt policy implemented by Serco.
Our members and supporters who had gathered to support this action then walked through the rain to the Home Office building on Brand Street where two brave young men are currently on hunger strike, faced with eviction, destitution and deportation to their “homeland” (a refugee camp in Afghanistan were one of the men was born). We offered our support, solidarity and all practical help necessary.
Just as our the crowd began to dwindle, many rushing back to work, volunteers rushing back to the Unity Centre to support those in need and Living Rent members retiring to a nearby shared office to continue planning. A few local residents, some of them whom we recognised from talking to regularly about their housing in the area, attempted to disrupt and antagonise those there. Some went as far as saying we would be “taken out”. These are people who we have spoke with at length with and had been building trust with for over a year. These were people who face a multitude of their own problems and live in near destitution.
It highlighted the need to engage the local community and give them some degree of ownership to defend their neighbours rather than it being abstract to their own suffering. There will be a hardcore of racists everywhere that need to be opposed, but winning or at least moving people to a neutral position is essential in this fight.
Where Glasgow defeated dawn raids and built solidarity that made a real difference, it was through the solidarity of working communities, through solidarity in action, physical resistance to raids, dawn-raid watches on the top of tower blocks at 5am every morning, through education, agitation and action. So we challenge all who hold power in some form, to finally put their money where their mouth is.
This is a beginning: there will be no business as usual in Glasgow for those whose business is dealing in violence for profit. We call on everyone to engage, challenge and organise against these evictions.
This must be only the beginning.
Six Families have so far been served with a seven-day notice. Any attempted lock changes will be early next week, with a promise of a further 10 each week thereafter. Anyone willing and able to help organise to defend their neighbours should email firstname.lastname@example.org
More information can be found on the Living Rent and Unity Centre websites and social media channels.