LCAP was formed in Autumn 2007. We were inspired by reports of an organisation based in Canada, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, and a film about an OCAP campaign called Raise the Rates. We began to discuss the use that a similar organisation could have in London: one which was organised to show solidarity with individuals and families affected by the regressive and hostile attitude of government and employers to poor and working class people.
We set out to identify areas in which we could start to take ‘direct action casework’ with the help of members who work as professional advisors. We settled on the practice of ‘gatekeeping’ at homeless persons units – that is, denying homelessness applications to families and individuals in need. We begun outreach in Hackney, well known for prodigious ‘gatekeeping’. Two quick wins showed us that the model had potential.
LCAP was formed as a different sort of organisation from others in Britain. We are not a political party or organisation, and we are not a single issue campaign. We are neither an advice agency, nor a lobby group. We are devoted to supporting the solidarity and activity of disadvantaged people who want to do something to right the wrongs they suffer. We do not take action for people, we take action with them. Sometimes, we are them.
Apart from OCAP there are several similar organisations in various parts of the globe which work on the same basic assumptions. These include Seattle Solidarity Network, Portland Coalition Against Poverty, Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty, Vancouver Anti-Poverty Committee, the Solidarity Collective in Paris, and Kensington Welfare Rights Union in Philadelphia. We are in contact with some of these organisations.
Through work at the homeless persons unit, LCAP met residents at the Alexandra Court hostel in Hackney, who were disatisfied with the unsafe, unhealthy and expensive conditions in which they were forced to live, through no fault of their own. Residents decided to demonstrate, and LCAP marched with them to Hackney Town Hall. An LCAP member has made a short film about the campaign. Many of the residents’ demands were met: some repairs were made, cleaning was slightly improved, a security door was added, and a few families were moved into better housing. Residents are still organising with LCAP to improve conditions at Alexandra Court, and we have made contact with residents at other hostels.
Wins like this seem small. In fact, they are small, and insufficient, and temporary. But if any broader change is to take place it must be based on the confidence of ordinary people to organise effective action for themselves, confrontational when necessary, to challenge oppressive and unfair institutions. Frequently, it is also the only way to achieve any improvement in immediate conditions.
In late 2008, we adopted a working group structure, allowing us to work on multiple issues at once. We had already been active in supporting striking cleaners on the London underground; and had become involved in the job centre through residents at Alexandra Court. So these were the natural additions to temporary accomodation and homelessnes as objects for our campaigning.
LCAP is still predominantly based in East London, but we hope in time to be active through groups based in other areas of the city. LCAP is still young, but has proven to be an effective organisation for winning change through solidarity and direct action. If you’d like to get involved, get in touch. Fight to win!
Also see Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty