This brief article advocates a return to traditional values of solidarity and direct action to tackle the housing crisis in Aotearoa.
In the recent election, the issue of homelessness and the availability of affordable housing, were prominent issues. The new government has its own ideas about how to deal with this. They are motivated in part by a xenophobic approach to ‘foreign speculators’ snapping up properties and an ideological commitment to working with ‘social partners’ including the private construction companies and employers. Before just resigning ourselves to this approach, it’s worth remembering that the problem of housing is not a new one in this country and that other methods exist for dealing with it.
There is a tendency on the wider Left, here and internationally to run from the idea of ‘traditional values’. The latter is an expression owned by the Right and most of their opponents have been content with that. Perhaps a better approach is to ask the question…which traditional values? Once upon a time, working people had ready access and inclination to use a range of techniques they had developed themselves to deal with social and economic problems. One of these was direct action, whereby people dealt with things themselves rather than looking to outside authorities to seek remedies. Of course, success was not always possible or long lasting but in today’s environment, it’s worth remembering that self-empowerment by working people could have positive results. Here is an historical example of direct action as applied to housing in Aotearoa during the early 1930’s:
“In Auckland an Anti-Eviction League was formed, whose members occupied and barricaded houses under threat of eviction, rallied neighbours for support, and prevented the bailiffs gaining access. In a number of cases these tactics were successful in saving a family’s home, or at least gaining a respite. The climax of the campaign came in October 1931 at 21 Norfolk Street, Ponsonby, where 15 armed defenders faced the combined strength of police and bailiffs.
The tenant of this house was a woman with five young children, who had been deserted by her unemployed husband. After the rent had remained unpaid for 11 weeks, the landlord obtained an eviction order, but members of the Anti-Eviction League took over the house, nailed down the windows, and tied banners to the verandah posts reading ‘No work, No Rent’ and ‘Stop the Evictions’. A red flag was hoisted from the roof.
After some preliminary skirmishes with the bailiffs, a strong force of police arrived on the scene. Using crowbars they broke down the front door and arrested the occupants who surrendered their homemade weapons: wooden batons, iron bars and lengths of piping. The bailiffs then entered and moved all the family’s furniture into the street. A crowd of up to 500, who had booed the police and cheered the anti-evictionists, now took up a collection for the mother and her young children. ‘Never mind, we’re not beaten yet’, she called out when a woman from Ponsonby Road offered her a temporary home” (From: Toil & Trouble, Roth/Hammond (Auckland, 1981, p. 120)