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Pat Wall

Clay Cross Must Not Fight Alone

(April 1973)

From Militant, 13 April 1973
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“Clay Cross Fights Alone” is the heading of the leaflet announcing the national demonstration to be held at Clay Cross this Saturday 14th April.

After all the promises, after the meetings of Labour controlled council groups at Sheffield last year, after all the election manifestos pledging non-implementation, only Clay Cross and one other small South Wales local authority (now awaiting a Housing Commissioner) have refused to implement the Housing Finance Act.

It is important that socialists understand the reasons for the collapse of the non-implementation campaign. First and foremost the blame must be placed firmly and squarely in the court of the National Executive of the Labour Party and the Parliamentary Party in their refusal to give any lead to local Labour groups.

It was this lack of leadership which led to the “free vote” fiasco, which was the escape clause for those right wing councillors in Labour controlled Authorities. In Labour group, after Labour group, the majority was for non-implementation, but by allowing a free vote in the council chamber a combination of Tories and the right wing secured a majority for implementing the Act.

For nearly twenty years following the war, the right wing controlled the Parliamentary Labour Party and most local authority Labour Groups with an iron discipline. Withdrawal of the whip, suspension and even expulsion was the lot of many left wingers who rebelled against the regime and fought for more socialist policies.

No one on the left wants a return to this system. However, a distinction must be drawn: there can be no justification for a free vote which allows Labour councillors to vote in favour of viciously anti-working class legislation and in favour of Tory policies.

Rent Strikes

To those who bleat about fines, distraint on property, imprisonment and, horror of horrors, removal from office, we must say if it’s too hot in the kitchen they should withdraw to the parlour and make way for representatives prepared to fight against the Tories and for the working class.

While many tenants associations have been developed during the campaign against the Act, and in some areas rent strikes have taken place, no one can pretend that any real success has been gained by the tenants movement.

By their nature, tenants organisations ebb and flow sharply, reaching a peak when increases are imminent and dying away as they are implemented. It is rarely possible to achieve the same degree of unity and participation as in a factory or pit during a strike.

For this reason, the tenants’ movement requires, even more than industrial struggle, conscious political intervention and leadership. It requires also to be linked to the organised Trade Union and Labour movement.

It is not accidental that the most successful rent strike took place in Clay Cross itself. Given a magnificent fighting lead by the Labour Council, 84% of tenants supported the total rent strike which lasted six weeks. This fact alone is a crushing refutation of those groups who operate on the fringes of the Labour movement and condemn membership of the Labour Party.

For correct tactical reasons the Clay Cross councillors have called off the rent strike. However, despite the impression given by the national press, they have not implemented the Act nor are they collecting any rent increases. Each tenant in Clay Cross has saved £26 in rent due to non-implementation.

Since 1962, when Labour took control, Clay Cross has carried out a massive slum clearance campaign, solved its housing problem and improved social and welfare conditions of its population. The attitude of the Clay Cross councillors can best be illustrated over the school milk issue. As a non-education authority they used their right to employ a penny rate to provide milk for over sevens.


Finding that this would run out two months early, they increased the never-used Chairman’s allowance to cover the deficit and this was donated to the milk fund. In Clay Cross the chairman’s chain of office has been rusting away since 1962.

In an area with 16% male unemployment, the Council has shown what can be achieved even within the confines of local government, when the council is prepared to fight for working class interests.

At the moment, the Clay Cross councillors have been surcharged £7,985 by the District Auditor, although the amount not collected from the Rent Act now amounts to £31,000 and increases by £1,600 per week.

It is the responsibility of the entire labour movement to defend the Clay Cross council to use its industrial and political power to prevent any action, financial or physical, being taken against the councillors. We must demand that such a pledge is given by the TUC and the NEC of the Labour Party.

The price of the average house is increasing by £100 per month and this increase is expected to continue. The government’s hasty injection of £15 million into the building societies’ funds to keep the mortgage rate down to 9½% will not prevent a 10% mortgage rate before the end of the year.

It is now almost impossible for anyone earning less than £2,000 per year to buy a house. Only the private landlords, guaranteed increases of up to 250% for controlled dwellings under the Housing Finance Act, and the land and property sharks benefit. One hundred new millionaires have resulted directly from land and property speculation since the Tories came to power.

In this situation the figures for building council houses are actually declining. This week, Alderman Newby, leader of Bradford City council has announced a deputation of local authorities to protest at the huge increases of estimates being demanded by private building firms. Local authorities are being held to ransom by the building monopolies who are concentrating on the more lucrative property speculation projects in office building.

The absolute necessity for a socialist housing policy has never been more clearly demonstrated. What is required is a real fighting campaign to mobilise the labour movement, the tenants and many owner occupiers around a clear programme which must include:-

The case for public ownership is overwhelming; despite the bureaucratic mismanagement in Russia, 5 million dwellings a year are built and the average rent is only 5% of a workers’ wage. As a transitional demand, we should campaign for rents to be fixed at the cost of maintenance and management and the abolition of all interest charges which at present swallow up at least 80% of local authority housing revenue accounts.

In March next year Clay Cross will cease to exist, swallowed up in the local government reorganisation. Possibly the government and certainly some leaders of our own movement hope that the Clay Cross issue will drag on through the courts and can then be forgotten.

Clay Cross is not alone! The stand made at Clay Cross must not be betrayed! This is the beginning and not the end of the struggle. Above all, the rank and file of the movement must step up the campaign to ensure that the new Labour controlled authorities refuse to implement any further rent increases and begin instead to reduce rents and take on the Tory Government.

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