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Issue 8 - November 1972
Biddick Hall Says No

In June of this year the South Shields Trades Union Council made a decision to oppose the Housing Finance Bill. This decision was acted upon using techniques which have proved to be effective over a range of issues and for which the SS Trades Union Council has developed something of a reputation as in its campaigns for students, pensioners, and during the miners and dockers strikes.

An analysis of action to date brings out 5 basic principles upon which effective grass root campaigns depend:

1 The campaign must involve a specific issue genuinely affecting those it is intended to involve in the campaign. Direct action must be possible by these individuals acting as a group. There must therefore be a realistic appreciation of the practical objectives of the campaign and an assessment of what particular action is expected from individuals.
(The South Shields campaign started with the specific intention of defeating the Rent Bill in the South Shields area by involving tenants in a rent strike. No time was wasted on petitions or appeals to local or national government.)

2 A thorough campaign of agitation and education must be mounted to ensure emotional and intellectual involvement in the issue.
(In South Shields over 30,000 leaflets were distributed explaining various aspects of the Housing Bill. Several Trades Council members became experts in interpreting the Bill and explaining the issues at tenants meetings.)

3 Organisations must be created at grass root level. All existing organisations are likely to be too rigid or too conservative to be effective. Existing leaders are likely to be suspect and new leaders must be allowed to rise.
(In South Shields 10 tenants' associations were established electing their own leaders most of whom were new to the political scene. The associations were united under a Federation.)

4 Political parties should NOT be involved or included in the organisations as such. Party members should be involved only on a non-party basis. One of the most characteristic features of public meetings of tenants has been the insistence of "keeping political parties out" - even when expressing such obviously political views as opposition to the Industrial Relations Act or the Rent Act. Thus while politically motivated individuals are necessary for sustained efforts to promote action they must be capable of sinking their long-term philosophy in the short-term interests of a narrow objective.
(In South Shields, political parties were specifically excluded from the Tenants Associations, and an attempt to set up a "Council of Action" to include political parties was resisted. Nevertheless, LP, CP, IS and SLL members all co-operated in the forming of the tenants associations.)

5 Trades union involvement should be sought at all levels. This should include union branches and trades councils, and, if national indications can be developed, the TUC involvement should include financial and organisational support, and ultimately the threat of supporting industrial action.
(In South Shields, a strike liaison committee was set up similar to those set up during the miners and dockers strikes. The committee consisted of strikers, and trade union council representatives, with the control of the committee firmly in the hands of the strikers. The experience of active trade unionists was thus available to the tenants and several donations of £50 were made by local trade union branches.)

Due to the temporary resistance to the Rent Act by the South Shields Town Council, rent increases have not yet been imposed on council houses. However, despite a demonstration by about 400 tenants outside the Town Hall, the Council recently decided on a free vote to implement the Act. This means that in about six weeks' time council tenants on nine estates will join the 130 tenants on North-East Housing Association estates who are not paying the increase in their rent.