Up and down the country communities are in struggle with the council or the government, it has always been that way, and always will, until the people themselves control their own communities. Issues keep coming up and some people think this is a new struggle, it is not, it is the same struggle that has been going on for centuries. A struggle to determine the shape of our own lives.
When an new issue arises communities have to think how best to handle it, how to organise, but we can learn from history, it has all been done before. In all our communities there are people who have been involved in defending their communities and it is from these people that we can learn how to meet the next issue, the next battle in this long struggle.
They following is a recorded interview with on such person, a former resident of Castlemilk, once Europe's largest housing estate, and I'm sure there are lessons there for today.
Fire Bombed In Castlemilk.
May 1983 there was a group of tenants who had been burned out their tenement flats, about 4 or 5 families. There had been an empty flat on the bottom landing and someone had thrown a petrol bomb into it, - in Castlemilk – east end, and the tenants – it was lucky that noone was killed in it. The fire brigade had to be called and people had to be rescued, by the fire brigade, a lot of them suffered from smoke inhalation, there was nobody living in the bottom flat that was empty but it was petrol bombed and it nearly killed everyone else in the building.
And they people were put in temporary accommodation only as long as it took the council to paint the close and fix up any of the burnt doors etc , and then they were told that was their houses ready and they would have to go back in. And even at that point you could still smell smoke in the whole building . But they were told that they would need to occupy the houses again because that was it and there wasn’t any other accommodation for them. And the people pointed out that not only was the place still smelled of burning but still smelling of smoke that they were terrified to return to that place again in case a similar incident happened. They pointed out that an awful lot of them had almost been killed in it.
But the Housing Dept was completely unsympathetic about it. And they said that that would be the only housing that they would be offered and they could take it or leave it sort of thing. So again they had went to their local Tenants Association who went up to the Housing Department with them and basically had had the wool pulled over their eyes by the housing authorities who told them there was nothing that they could do about the whole thing. And as it so happened on their way out of the Housing Dept one of them met me and another couple of the guys that were involved in the other activities in Castlemilk and they told us about their situation and we immediately said did you go to your tenants group and they said that’s him there that’s the guy there from the Tenants Group and we quizzed him and he told us Oh the housing Association have told us that there’s nothing we can do about it and we will just have to accept it.
And the people said to us ‘ is that right do we just have to accept that and can they force us to go back in there? ‘ And again I asked the question again ‘ Well how determined are you?’ And they said ‘well we are very determined’. And I said well you can be very determined but you might end up threatened with jail or stuff like that and the people said well, we don’t care that’s how bad we feel about the whole thing.
So we had a wee meeting with them, a good discussion about the whole thing they were adamant that they weren’t going to return to that tenement building so we said lets try to work out a strategy of how to approach this, obviously the next stage was to go and lobby the housing dept again and demand to see the housing manager etc etc but what other things can we come up with?
Despite the fact that a lot of the people there were political activists we were honestly stumped about what to come up with – we came up with a few ideas like we will go to see the housing manager , push him etc do this and do that, but here a wee woman one of the tenants that had been burned out her house who had never been involved in anything before stuck her hand up and timidly asked , ‘ See how we are basically homeless it would be a good idea for us to get a tent and put it in the grounds of the housing department and we will just live there we will just live in the grounds of the Housing dept. right outside and we all looked at one another because it was basically one of the best ideas we had ever heard! And we thought Brilliant! Absolutely Brilliant! That’s exactly what we will do.
And we did that the next day – we went in to see the manager pointed out that the people were not going to be returning to their tenement flats, had he another offer for them and he said that he ‘was not going to use that as another excuse for queue jumping’ and for trying to get into a better part of Castlemilk or whatever, you know.
And of course the people were really indignant about that, it had nothing to do with that they had nearly lost their lives. So after a lot of arguing with him and him just refusing to help in any way whatsoever, we went outside, we got the tent that we had brought, and we pitched the tent and a couple of these collapsible chairs people sat outside the tent on that and from then on we started making posters and notices. Fortunately the bit of ground I mention about is right outside the door of the housing on a big triangle of ground I think there was a small fence at that point that you could just step over so we had the tent pitched and we started to hand draw notices and put them up on trees explaining to people going by and everybody that was going by we were able to tell them what was going on we were able to speak to them.
So within a couple of days we had a couple of tents and tons of hand drawn notices up. People by this time that were going up and down to the shops because the housing office is right next to the main shopping area in Castlemilk so a lot of people had to pass it anyway and go up the lane that ran from the side of the housing dept down to the shopping centre . They had become used to what was happening and some people started giving us donations of money and then food and that was growing so we made a point of that we got big buckets and advertised what was going on and so on. And one day a guy passed and said ‘see how they poor people are staying in they tents would it not be better if they had a caravan and we said that would be brilliant. He said ‘I’ve got a caravan that I can give yous’.
Well that night when the housing department was closed they had all went to their beds we brought the caravan in and lifted it over the wee fence. So the next day when the housing department authorities came in there was a caravan in the grounds. And by this time we had started printing up posters with the housing managers face on them and other posters saying ‘ cmon gies a hoose’ which was a reference to the Boys from the Black Stuff (TV) by Yosser, his phrase was ‘Cmon gies a job’ so we changed that a wee bit and as I say we had pictures of the Housing Manager’s face his name was Mugnaioni, I think so we changed that to Buggsieoni and posing as a housing manager for Wanted Posters and we covered the area with the posters and the trees with the posters and shortly after we got the caravan we thought lets extend this lets go and get another caravan and we did that so there was basically a couple of fairly big caravans and tents and stuff like that in the housing department. And every day that that was going on we basically occupied the housing department about 30 to 40 people occupying the housing dept petitioning to see the housing manager and ultimately they sent for the police and 3 days in a row all 30 people were arrested by the police. And the police said, ‘now you are all under arrest, now will you all walk from here to the police station which was 50 yards away or whatever and we all said no you will need to send cars and vans. So they got cars and vans from the surrounding areas to come and take us all to the police station to charge us and then let us go so we immediately went back to the housing department and occupied it again. We got great public support, we got tons and tons of money and food handed in by people. Some people that were passing ended up joining the campaign it was absolutely fantastic. We’ve got an article originally written by Jeanette McGinn for Workers City which covers the whole event. I think eventually I think it lasted six months or so. And to cut a very long story short the people that the housing manager had absolutely refused to rehouse would never rehouse they could only take that tenement block or not got rehoused in houses of their choice ultimately after 6 months of struggle and the housing manager explained to us that it could all have been resolved a lot quicker if we had not have interfered in the whole thing. Which by then we were used to hearing all that when we come into conflict with the authorities that the thing would have been dealt with quicker if we had not have been involved but in reality what that would have meant is that they would have had their way . So that was a very successful campaign
To escalate the whole thing we were going to take one of the caravans and take it down to George Square and ram it in the door down there.