Croydon’s Communist Party Sets Out Measures to Tackle Britain’s Housing Crisis

There are 5,000 people on the Croydon council housing list, many of them officially homeless. This is only likely to increase as people are being forced out of Lambeth and other neighbouring boroughs due to the increasing cost of housing. Many have been put in temporary accommodation. Across Britain, around two million families are stuck on council and housing association waiting lists, with the Tories spitefully striking off 113,000 people by changing the way in which people qualify.

Ben Stevenson, Communist Party general election candidate for Croydon North, said, “I think this is a scandal and is symptomatic of the Tory-Lib Dem Government’s refusal to tackle the country’s housing crisis. Britain has the seventh largest economy in the world. We should be building decent homes for all who need them. Instead, we are failing those least able to defend themselves, forcing them to squeeze in to B&Bs. Not only are the conditions often cramped and squalid, but children suffer as they have no place to play or do their homework. These are modern day slums; and this is a massive waste of taxpayers’ money.”

House prices in London are continuing to spiral out of control. According to recent figures from the Land Registry, prices in Croydon have risen by 17% over the last year (against a London average of 11%). This is caused by a shortage of housing in the capital, the activities of ‘buy to let’ landlords and the Government’s fundamentally misconceived Funding for Lending scheme which fuels another speculative bubble.

The average property value in Croydon is now £324,000. According to ONS statistics, the average wage in Croydon is £24,336. As real wages have fallen for most people since the start of the recession, house prices in Croydon are now less affordable, compared to earnings, than ever before. It’s usually considered that a reasonable level for house prices is about three times that of earnings. But, for the first time, we are seeing average London house price which are thirteen times the average wage. People are being forced to take on absurd levels of debt to buy a home.

Mr Stevenson said, “Clearly, this isn’t sustainable. At some point the bubble will burst. Local politicians are failing to meet the housing needs of those least able to defend themselves: the poor, the vulnerable and the socially excluded. Meanwhile the number of new houses being built is falling to an all-time low. The only significant building projects that get the green light are those that promise yet more luxury apartments in an attempt to lure high earners away from Central London. The supply of social housing in Croydon is of course, woefully inadequate. Years of neglect by the local Tory council, along with central New Labour and Tory Government housing policies, has left Croydon with a smaller housing stock then almost any other London boroughs. Even the Council’s own Housing Strategy admits that Croydon is ill-equipped to meet housing need. An entire generation of people in Croydon are being systematically denied their right to decent affordable housing.

The communist party is absolutely clear. Having a decent place to live should be a basic human right. Labour has failed to take this issue seriously. Their policy on house building is opaque. Is it 200,000 or 250,000. Is that per year or just by 2020? Are those affordable homes or just more sky scrapers built to provide luxury apartments? How exactly is this meant to be achieved if not through a programme of council house building? In fact this policy commitment seems to be based on an expectation that the housing and construction market will itself magically deliver a solution.

We need, as a matter of urgency, to campaign for a significant council house building programme, an end to the bedroom tax, an end to council house sales, compulsory requisitioning of long term empty properties and rent controls in the private sector. Our immediate priority has to be to tackle private landlords. Rather than vague commitments to cap rents at CPI, I want to see an immediate rental cap of 50 per cent of average local earnings, driving it down until it’s 25 per cent.

Ultimately, we need more council housing across Britain. Just 37 per cent of accommodation let privately meets decent homes association standards compared to all council properties. We urgently need an inspection team – with the power to actually force landlords to act and to take properties into democratically accountable hands when they don’t. Only the Communist Party offers these and other progressive policies which matter to ordinary working people.”

Communists in Croydon published a pamphlet in 2014 on the growing housing crisis in the borough, Decent Homes For All: End Croydon’s Housing Crisis Now! This publication seeks to explain the why and how of Croydon’s housing crisis. Copies are available on this blogsite or by contacting us direct.

Notes to editors:
1. For enquiries phone 0208 686 1659 or e-mail croydon@communist-party.org.uk
2. Ben Stevenson is 30 years old and National Organiser of the Communist Party. Since moving to Croydon from his native Birmingham in 2005, he has been heavily involved in local labour movement politics through the Croydon Save Our Schools Campaign, the campaign against the Beddington Lane Incinerator and the Croydon Trades Union Council’s Executive Committee. He stood as a Communist Party candidate in the 2012 Croydon North by-election and the 2014 Bensham Manor local election.
3. The Communist Party was founded in 1920 and is part of an international movement involving millions of people in more than 100 countries across the globe.

That was not democracy

Whatever it is we have been experiencing over the last six weeks, it was not democracy. Democracy is rule by people. It requires the people to have free, unbiased and digestible information enabling them to engage in discussion and debate before reaching their decisions. What we have just experienced satisfies none of these criteria. It was nothing more than a quinquennial  circus, largely  paid for by big business and wealthy individuals with vested interests in the outcome. It fell well short of true democracy for the following reasons:

  1. Under our first-past-the post system, most voters are deprived of any influence over the outcome. In consequence, a significant proportion of voters have not registered to vote or, if they have, will not bother to vote.
  2. The winners will claim legitimacy even though the majority of the population have not have voted for them. This is in sharp contrast to Tory plans requiring workers to secure a majority of those who are entitled to vote in every workplace before industrial action can be taken.
  3. Voters will have no say in any deals stitched up after the election.
  4. Once elected, MPs will be insulated from and hence largely insensitive to the views of those who elected them.
  5. The reporting of the election has been dominated by privately owned mass media whose owners are neither UK voters nor UK taxpayers and by a BBC running scared of changes to its charter and license fee by the winners of the election. To make matters worse, most journalists in every media are unrepresentative of the nation to which they report, being predominately white, middle class and Oxbridge educated.
  6. The MPs we elect, whatever the result, will also be unrepresentative. Not only will they earn around three times the average wage, they will have more job security and much better pensions than most of those who elected them. They will be drawn predominately from professional and managerial backgrounds. Like journalists, they will be predominately men, privately educated, Oxbridge graduates. Many like the (hopefully outgoing) Prime Minister will come from wealthy backgrounds.
  7. It is impossible to have democracy at the national level unless it is underpinned by local government democracy. The latter has been gutted as Peter Latham describes in great detail in his excellent book[i].
  8. It is impossible to have democracy at the national level if it is denied us in the workplace. The anti-trade union legislation in place in the UK conflicts with international agreements freely entered into by previous governments. For more information on this illegality, refer to Union Rights…and Wrongs[ii]
  9. Power no longer lies with elected MPs. They are whipped into conformity by the political parties, and they can no longer legislate in a number of areas due the EU.
  10. The dominant political parties are financed by big business and wealthy individuals.

In the light of these shortcomings, don’t expect too much from the forthcoming election. Austerity must be opposed whoever wins, but this will be much harder if the Tories form the next government. A Labour government is a necessary but insufficient condition to oppose austerity. A vote for the Communists, when available, will help with this. But the real fight starts after the election. In Croydon this means building the Communist Party locally and supporting the Croydon TUC and its Croydon Assembly initiative on Saturday, 6 June.

[i] The State and Local Government by Peter Latham, Manifesto Press, 2011. £14.95 from the Communist Party

[ii] Union Rights…and Wrongs: the reform of Britain’s anti-union laws by John Hendy QC 2001. The Institute of Employment Rights.

Ben Stevenson’s answers to Croydon Advertiser’s q&a

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As part of their coverage of the election in Croydon North, the Croydon Advertiser sent a few round robin questions to all candidates. Here’s Communist candidate Ben Stevenson’s answers in full:

What would you do to improve the public image of Croydon North?

This is presumably a question for those parties that have lots of policies on cleaning up dog shit and street lamps. I’d start by improving Croydon North itself rather than worrying about its public image. We need jobs, we need investment, we need public facilities, we need democratic accountability, we don’t need image consultants. Croydon is not a tourist destination or a concept it’s a community of people. I’d concern myself with improving the lives of the people of Croydon North first – that would be an example worth fighting for and promoting across Croydon, London, England, Britain and the rest of the globe.


Name one thing you have done, or would do, to make Croydon North a better place.

Bring democracy back to the people. Set up local street level bodies and fighting for the transfer of real powers to them. We’d also fight for more powers for the local council, stop political parties from being able to pay companies to do their job for them. Introduce a spending limit on campaigns and donations to political parties. Fight for the introduction of single transferable vote in all elections in England. Campaign for a federal democratic Britain with separate economic, legislative and other powers for Scotland, Wales, London (and other regions of England where it is wanted). Withdraw from the bosses club of the EU (a policy we’ve had for more than sixty years by the way) and end our involvement in foreign wars and costly expenditure on useless nuclear weapons.

 
What would you do to diversify Croydon North’s high streets?

Support the development of local small businesses and co-operatives
Our manifesto commits us to closing all tax loopholes and going after monopoly corporations and the super rich who own the vast majority of Britain’s wealth so we can help support and develop small enterprises and the cooperative sector. Not only would this benefit employers, it would benefit workers as well as cooperatives in particular eliminate the need for bureaucratic middle management (the David Brent’s of this world would be a thing of the past). 
Getting rid of the betting shops, pay day loans and cash for gold shops plaguing our high street. And I’d also work with others to ensure all Croydon council contracts new and old are with local public companies – particularly those cooperatively owned and run.

  
Croydon North is seen as a foregone conclusion electorally. What would you say to people to reassure them their vote is still worthwhile?

All the mainstream parties (including the likes of UKiP who are just as much a part of the political establishment as the rest of them) are counting on your indifference in this election, none of them are putting any resources, campaigning or even bothering to turn up on your doorstep or in your communities to find out what you care about and what you’re interested in. That tells you all you need to know about what they’re interested in – your vote and that’s it. They don’t care about truly fighting for or representing you. I do. Whatever government is elected, the people of Croydon North need someone in parliament and on their streets who will fight for them. What’s more we won’t disappear after the elections over. Communists in Croydon will continue to fight on the other 364 days of the year for the interests of ordinary hard working people.

 
What would you do to reduce the burden on Croydon University Hospital and improve the NHS?

Reopen neighbouring hospitals, facilities and build more (not through PFI!) to ease the pressure on Croydon University Hospital. Transferring services to GPs has just lumped work onto already overworked surgeries and erected another barrier between people and proper medical care. Reverse the Tories health and social care act and kick the profiteers out of our NHS. I’ve had personal experience of just how overstretched, bureaucratised and obsessed with delivering the lowest quality of care for the cheapest amount of money the NHS trust has become. I’d kick out Virgin health and set up a board composed of unions, doctors, nurses, patients and local representatives to run our hospital. We’d also either scrap or pay the tuition fees of any person in Croydon North who wants to get a medical degree – providing they commit to spending 6 years practicing I’m the borough when they start practicing.

 
How would you tackle the housing crisis in Croydon North?

Build more council housing rather than another yet another glass tower block with luxury apartments and shopping complexes. End the selling off of council housing stock. Introduce a rental cap of 50% of average earnings locally – reducing it each year until it’s at 25%. Scrap the bedroom tax. Provide a grant for all working families to enable them to meet the ridiculously high cost of private renting. Set up a dedicated private sector inspection team to look at the quality and overcrowding in existing private rental accommodation (only 37% of those owned by private landlords, meet the decent homes association standards whereas 100% of council housing does). All this and a hell of a lot more is in our pamphlet produced in 2010 to deal with the housing crisis in Croydon – when nobody else was talking about the issue.

 
What effect do you think immigration has had on Croydon North?
What would you do to improve the public image of Croydon North?
This  economic, legislative and other powers l

Croydon North is an incredibly contradictory constituency, it’s one of the most diverse parts of our borough – something that we should celebrate and fight to protect from racists, fascists and xenophobes. But it’s also one of the most deprived parts of London, immigration isn’t the cause of this it’s a symptom. In the 1950s immigrants from the west Indies and Indian subcontinent were blamed for the economic problems faced by white workers, it’s classic divide and rule tactics. The interests of working class people are the same whatever country they come from and whatever ethnicity they are. We are of course in favour of leaving the EU and NATO – and establishing proper mutually beneficial economic, diplomatic and friendly relationships between countries in Europe and the rest of the world. Investing in other countries (and other parts of Britain) and developing their infrastructure is the only way to reduce the level of immigration – people migrate because they’re looking for work and better lives. Britain is the sixth richest country in the globe it is a crime that has been perpetrated by a tiny minority (less than 1%) of the population on the majority. Austerity has actually made the rich richer and the poor poorer we’d end that trend and much more…

And now for something completely different

While the Croydon Communist Party’s election campaign in Croydon North gathers pace, let’s take a break and look at what’s happening in Croydon South. Notwithstanding some nervousness by the Tory candidate, Chris Philip, over UKIP – in his election address he blames the Tory’s loss of Croydon Council last year to Labour by 10 seats to UKIP defections – this seat is a plumb job for life for whoever the Tory Party selects. This is especially true if the appointee can keep his previous business interests going. Who can live on an MP’s salary of £74,000 these days?

This will suit Mr Philip. He’s a Cambridge graduate in physics, which means he’s smart and expert in mathematics. Like many with this qualification, however, he turned his back on physics and applied his skills to the murky but more lucrative world of finance, i.e. those clever people who brought the economy to its knees in 2007-8, not, as the Tories would have you believe, the Labour Party by employing too many nurses. Having abandoned physics he went to work for McKenzie, the US consultants and wheeler dealers, then left (following a well trodden path) to start his own businesses in ‘distribution’. His election address says he drove the delivery van himself at the beginning, but don’t be fooled: he’s a money man through and through. He sold the business in no time at all and must now be a (multi?) millionaire. Then he went on to become a co-founder and partner in Pluto Finance, a business that lends to developers of luxury apartments. Their most prominent investment in the UK is a 36 apartment development in West Hampstead in which a one bedroom apartment sell for £0.5 million, two bedrooms for £0.7 million. Just what the UK housing crisis needs!

So much for the man. What about the policies Mr Philip is putting before his electors? He would like to take credit for the new A&E unit in Croydon University Hospital, ignoring the fact that it has been failing due to Tory cuts. He brags about the government having created 1.8 million new jobs but doesn’t mention zero hours contracts and job insecurity. But then even the Labour Party doesn’t these days mention the best form of job security, strong trade unions. He says he wants to protect the NHS while ignoring the fact that his government is responsible for its current parlous state. Most ludicrous of all, he would like to “hold Southern Rail to account” for its “terrible performance”. it doesn’t need holding to account, it needs to be stripped of its franchise and for the service to be re-nationalised.

Unfortunately, we are going to have to get used to Mr Philip and his foibles. It’s said that the voters of Croydon South will vote for anyone provided he (and it usually is he) wears a blue rosette. Provided Mr Philip can avoid the slip ups that tend to beset Tory MPs in safe seats, he’s likely to be around for a long time.

Croydon North communist candidate Ben Stevenson calls for revolution in our democracy

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Croydon North Communist candidate Ben Stevenson spoke to assembled national and international media at an event in Westminster today organised to promote the CPs election manifesto.


Whatever government manages to be formed come may 8th 9th – whether it’s blue and purple; red and orange; green, pink, black, gold or yellow 

What’s clear is that what we wont get is a government that will break the neoliberal consensus which has dominated our politics for the last 35 years. We won’t get a government that will represent the interests of ordinary working people over that of the city spivs, big business or any other section of the top 1% who own and control nearly all of Britain’s wealth. Why is this, well over the last 35 years we’ve seen a sustained and gradual selling off, erosion and rolling back and of our democracy by Tory, new labour government and now this unelected coalition government.

What we need is a revolution in our democracy. If we’re serious about tackling tax havens why don’t we start with the 2nd largest one in the world – the city of London – that resides just a couple of miles down the road. A revolution in our democracy that challenges the power of the city and punctures through the Westminster bubble

That’s why the Communist Party puts forwards the creation of a truly democratic relationship between the nations and peoples of this country. A truly federal Britain, which will include extensive economic, financial and law-making powers for Scotland, Wales and the regions of England (where it is wanted).

To those that say regional government in England doesn’t work, just look at London even with a blithering idiot like Boris Johnson as mayor – public transport in London (despite its many faults) is streets ahead of other cities and regions of Britain.

Of course as a communist MP I would go even further in my constituency setting up local street level bodies and fighting to transfer power back to the people.

What’s more all three nations would benefit from Britain’s withdrawal from the EU and NATO, enabling us to pursue domestic, foreign and non-nuclear defence policies free from pro-big business diktat and aggressive foreign wars. These are the kind of policies that the Communist Party is putting forward at this election and that we will be fighting for whatever government is formed on May 8th.

Right to Buy or Just Plain Wrong?

It was disappointing that, while Ed Miliband was prepared in the BBC leaders’ debate last night to oppose the new Tory wheeze to grant housing association tenants the right to buy, supposedly financed by further syphoning from the dwindling council housing stock, he was not prepared to condemn the original Tory rip-off or its continuation under Tory and Labour governments. A recent study found that a third of ex-council homes sold in the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher are now owned by private landlords, many of them resident in off-shore tax havens. Another study found that in one London borough almost half of ex-council properties are now sub-let to tenants.  Anyone gullible enough to think that Tory politicians do not feather their own nests should reflect on the fact that Charles Gow, son of Mrs Thatcher’s Housing Minister who drove through the policy, now owns with his wife at least 40 ex-council houses. As Paul Kenny, General Secretary of the GMB, said about this outcome: “You couldn’t make it up”.

Neither Labour nor the Tories has any coherent idea on how to address the housing crisis. While both speak about building more houses, both would lack the means to ensure this actually happens. Instead of direct public investment in housing, the government spent £35 billion in 2012-14 on Housing Benefit, a subsidy paid directly to landlords which ensures that house prices stay high. The cost of this support has risen a third under the coalition and will continue to rise as our kids increasingly find that the choice facing them is staying with Mum and Dad into middle age or renting in the private sector. Yet neither party has an alternative. Not so the Communists. Only we appear to be clear sighted enough to recognise that there is a need to de-couple people’s need for a secure home from their desire to invest and accumulate even when this accumulation tends to be at the expense of those who do not own their homes and tends to benefit the banks even more than the borrowers. What would communists do? Invest in council housing, albeit with more democratic control than has applied in the past – for example no more bedroom taxes! Our Economic Commission has called for the implementation of Land Value Tax, initially at a low level so that it simply replaced Council Tax, but with a view to raising the rate over time so that, in effect, land would become a socially owned asset. Communists would end the scandal of 80,000 young people experiencing homelessness every year when there are one million empty or second homes out there.

Impracticable? We don’t think so. Visionary? Unapologetically!

One Step Forward for Labour, One Step Back

Labour’s commitment to scrapping non-dom status should be welcomed as a modest step to reforming our not-fit-for-purpose tax system. As the Communist Party’s pamphlet From Each According to their Means argues, much more needs to be done including scrapping our dependent offshore tax havens, instigating a wealth tax and moving to Land Value Tax. The Tories’ hysterical response can only damage their own election prospects. Suggesting that Ed Balls, Labour’s right leaning shadow Chancellor, may have been over-ruled will only strengthen Labour;  and claiming that abolishing non-dom status will drive “thousands of rich people abroad” is a total own goal. As Danny Dorland argues in Inequality and the 1%, Britain cannot afford its super rich. They are not a national asset – they simply own assets and, in consequence, drive up their prices and distort our economy and politics. They are a drain on us all and, as Wilkinson and Puckett demonstrated in their excellent book, The Spirit Level, we would all be better off without them.

The Tories also scored an own goal this week with their claim that Labour would be prepared to enter into coalition with the SNP whose price would be scrapping Trident. The truth of the matter is that nuclear weapons are illegal, unaffordable and totally useless against any threats we face, now or in the foreseeable future. There is absolutely no mass support for them in England and Wales and open hostility to them in Scotland where they are based. Scottish voters are not stupid: they understand that they would all would be wiped out in a few minutes if a Westminster government even unleashed them. Anyone who values nuclear weapons above halting cuts to our welfare, education and health services is going to vote Tory or UKIP anyway. Yet, having been presented with this magnificent own goal, Labour retrieved it from their opponent’s net and booted it straight back into their own. ‘Of course we will upgrade Trident’ they brayed, ignoring its unaffordability, illegality and immorality – and their own prospects of being elected. New Labour lingers on, it seems.

Canvassers for the Communist Party will be out again this weekend and in the coming weeks in Croydon North and will be happy to discuss these and any other matters you wish to raise with them on the doorstep. Our canvassers are not like those of the big parties – we like talking politics, even with people who don’t necessarily agree with everything we stand for. Furthermore, unlike the big parties, we are rushing to secure a promise from you to vote for us. We don’t expect to win, but just think what a better place it would be if Ben Stevenson and the half dozen or so other Communist Party candidates standing in these elections were actually elected.

General Election: the starting gun is fired

What did you make of the “leaders” television debate last night? Communist Party campaigners will be on the streets this Saturday in Croydon North and elsewhere where we are standing asking what you think.  My immediate response was to take some encouragement from Miliband’s attacks on zero hours contracts and the need to strengthen tenants’ rights and pleasure from Cameron’s obvious discomfort at the entire process – he was clearly trying to ooze confidence but only managed, as usual, to ooze. The anti-austerity sense talked by the Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru was also encouraging. Needless to say, the Sun, Times, Mail and Torygraph saw it all as a great triumph for Cameron, but the speed with which they posted up their headlines confirmed that these had already been dictated by their owners prior to the start of the debate. For how much longer must we put up with this affront to democracy? It should be unlawful not only for anyone not domiciled in the UK and paying UK taxes to own a newspaper but for any national newspaper to be structured in any way other than as a co-operative owned by the readers. There would, of course, still be right wing rags like the Daily Mail spouting nonsense, but at least it would be nonsense their dwindling readership came up with. The two most significant omissions from the debate for me were the failure of anyone to speak up for restoring trade union rights and the fact that only the Green mentioned global warming. So it will be five more years of fiddling while Rome burns – for ‘fiddling’ read carbon omissions, for ‘Rome’ read the world. Meanwhile, whoever ‘wins’, let’s hope Len McCluskey, the General Secretary of Unite, sticks with his resolve  to hold unlawful strikes if the next government seeks to enforce a higher threshold on strike ballots.

Eduction, education, education

Ed Miliband’s announcement this week of some modest restrictions on the privatisation of the NHS was a welcome recognition that Labour has been listening both to their working class voters and to the advice and encouragement they are receiving from the left, especially from the Morning Star and the Communist Party. On education, however, Labour’s policies remain mired in Blairite conservatism. Tristam Hunt, Labour’s ineffectual shadow education secretary, is the son of Baron Hunt of Chesterton and has no experience of state education, having himself been privately educated. One of his contributions to the education debate has been to propose requiring public (i.e. private) schools to assist local state schools, thereby helping to perpetuate the myth of the superiority of the former and encouraging them to adopt an attitude of patronising condescension to the state sector. Hunt, as well as being the author of an indifferent biography of Fredrich Engels, was the author, along with the arch Blairite and self-promoter David Blunkett, of a report recommending the appointment of commissioners to be responsible for raising school standards, handling failing schools and for deciding on proposals for new schools. All this would do would be to conceal the hand of central government in education. What is really needed is: a return to democratically controlled education supervised and adequately funded by the local education authority; an end to free schools and academies; and at least an end to the privileged status of private schools. An even better solution for private schools would, however, be the transfer of all their assets to the local education authority – a modern day equivalent of the closure on the monasteries. After all, they claim to be charities. What could be more charitable than that?

As the student demonstrations in London on Wednesday confirmed, free higher education remains a legitimate demand by students and young people. And so it should be. Their parents enjoyed free higher education: why should their generation have to mortgage themselves for half a lifetime to enable universities to act like pseudo-businesses? Colleges and universities are inter-connected with the state and should be required to concentrate on what should be their role in a democratic state: providing open access to learning, education and research. Educating students from abroad for the fee income it generates has become a primary ‘business’ goal for them. While it could be a worthwhile secondary objective when these students come from under-privileged backgrounds and developing countries, thereby contribution to international development, it is not a legitimate objective when its purpose is to generate profit for the institution. Universities are no more businesses than are schools.  Labour should be listening to the students too.

Concert Review- Woody Guthrie “The Road to Peekskill.”

Congress House 18th March with Will Kaufman.

The downstairs hall at TUC’s Congress House was packed on 18th March with this special concert organised by South East Region TUC to pay tribute to the legendary US Communist folk troubadour Woody Guthrie. The songs were performed by Will Kaufman US born professor of American Literature at the University of Central Lancashire, England and author of an acclaimed book on Woody “Woody Guthrie, American Radical.”

Will’s own singing voice suits his subject matter well starting off with Woody’s most famous song “This Land is Your Land”. But this was not just a rehash of the most famous and most covered songs Woody recorded. For this was also a voyage, using talk and film, through Woody’s political development culminating in a song he wrote about the famous Peekskill concert in 1949. Woody came from a Southern racist family with a father who was possibly a member of the Klu Klux Klan and who may or may not have participated in a notorious lynching. Early on in his singing career Woody thought nothing of singing racist songs on radio shows until challenged by a letter from a young African-American man. Coming alongside his growing interest in the labour movement and his friendship with Blues singer Huddie Leadbetter (Leadbelly), his attitudes shifted radically. Another close friend was the Communist actor Will Geer, later Grandpa Walton in “The Waltons.”

The song “Deportees (Plane Crash at Los Gatos)” performed by Will was about a terrible plane crash killing Mexican farm labourers who the news stories described as being “just deportees”. The song has been covered by numerous artists including Dolly Parton and reflected Woody’s growing anger at injustice and racism.

The events at Peekskill took place in September 1949. There were two attempts to stage a concert with Paul Robeson at the town of Peekskill. The first was broken up by fascists assisted by the police. At the second Robeson managed to sing along with Pete Seeger but the attendees were attacked by fascist thugs as they came out. US author Howard Fast (Spartacus, Freedom Road)” was to comment “This is the Voice of Fascism not in Nazi Germany but here in America”. The chants shouted by the crowd aimed at black people and Jews would definitely bear this out. As SERTUC secretary Megan Dobney pointed out it was this concert where our comrade Mikki Doyle (later Women’s editor of the Morning star was blinded in one eye).

Although Will Kaufman identifies more with the anarcho-syndicalist IWW tradition he was happy to pay respect to the role US communists played in fighting racism and fascism in that period.  The concert ended with a plug for the “Stand UP to Racism” demonstration on 21st March with a performance of the song “All you Fascists are Bound to Lose” and then an encore of a recent song about Woody by Steve Earle “Christmas Time in Washington.” This was a great celebration of music and politics and a reminder how much Woody has inspired so many artists in both song and support for progressive politics.

Steven Johnson