In October 2000 auditors discovered a hole in the accounts so large they did not know how big it was. An order was made forbidding any new expenditure. One of the immediate effects was the closure of two nurseries, Atherden and Fernbank. Parents at both immediately occupied them to keep them open. When the council met in November the order was lifted and the nurseries were reprieved.
There were walkouts by some council staff and angry if damp demonstrations. A noisy demonstration on November 6 blocked the road at a council meeting heavily protected by riot police. On December 18 a one-day strike across the council attracted wide support, At the end of January council workers walked out for three days.
The council, including their top paid executives like Max Caller, don't seem to have a clue what is going on. In October it was only a rumour that £40 million had gone missing. The council said it was around £25m. By December it was £76 million. Hackney have sold a plot of land on the edge of The City of London but supposedly this will not make any difference. So where has the money gone? The 'debt' is caused by money withheld by central government, ITNet's disastrous performance (a particularly incompetent privatised Housing Benefit service), and other large sums pissed away on prestige projects like a leisure centre in the richest part of the borough, not to mention a few bob on glossy free newspapers telling us how the council have got it all under control. Despite their inability to balance the books the council still maintain they have the means to get the borough cut of the mess they have made. These include closure of services, massive wage cuts for manual workers, and more privatisation. At present most of the initiative is with the council workers themselves, however if the cuts are to be resisted successfully it is up to local residents as well to take on the council. The parents, children and their friends who occupied the nurseries at the beginning of the crisis were successful in defending a service they needed. However, one of the nurseries, Atherden, has since been closed down. It has now been squatted.
The most obvious opposition to the cuts, apart from the council workers themselves, is 'Hackney Fightback' dominated by the Socialist Workers Party. Despite being supposedly community based their strategy relies on strikes by council workers arid indoor rallies. Behind this is the daft hope of a victory for the London Socialist Alliance in the next council elections. Hackney is supposedly a hotbed of anarchist activity and some local anarchists, council workers and residents, are trying to push an alternative to this, reviving the "Hackney Heckler" paper and printing stickers as well as staying involved in Hackney Fightback, which is probably less marginalised than any anarchist grouping, and the union action.
Council services have been run down for years in Hackney, making it difficult for council workers to mobilise support. Privatised services make borough wide strikes weaker, council estate sell offs make unity amongst tenants harder to organise. By shutting services and making council tenants subsidise other residents through their rents the council are continuing a deliberate policy of driving poorer residents out of parts of the borough and making the area ripe for gentrification and property speculation .This is neo-liberalism at a local level, Hackney is clearly an experiment, to see how far you can go. If it works it is coming to a council near you soon.
For more info contact: [email protected]; Hackney Fightback 079 4442 2378.