The Battle of Euston Road
It was a rough night at St. Pancras – rough enough to make any spectator catch the first Tube home. The atmosphere was tense and hate-filled. Shouting and swearing, pushing and falling, the rent-demonstrators grappled with the police. Some people, with the detached air of a personal mission unconnected with the violence around them, tried to ease an embarrassed way through the crowd. We have become unaccustomed over the past decade or so, to police baton charges. But that night it seemed that the Euston Road was suddenly shot back into the ‘thirties and the days of the hunger marchers.
The newspapers have tried to gloss over the barricades and the attempts to resist the bailiffs as the work of Communists and Trotskyists. Is this true? Or were the riots the work of the Teds, out for a night’s punch-up with the police? Certainly, all these people were prominent. But the majority of those involved were neither Communists nor delinquents. They were simply some of the working class folk of St. Pancras. protesting against the old fashioned bread and butter problem of increasing rents. In doing so, they showed up one hole in the rosy tapestry of the so-called affluent Society. For this was no gripe about the size of a telly screen or the horse-power of a new car. These people were down to the fundamentals of getting a living.
Were the rioters, then, correct? Should they have gone ahead with their plan to seize the Town Hall and evict the Housing Manager? In fact, such activity is futile, for it attracts the full pressure of the state machine. There was no lack of police outside the Town Hall that night and four hundred were mustered for the evictions of the barricaded tenants. This at a time when, we are told, understaffing of the police force makes it difficult to deal with the crime Wave. In other words, here was the capitalist state firmly applying itself to the protection of property society. And that state machine is maintained by the continual support which the vast majority of the working class regularly gives to capitalism. This is the real tragedy of St. Pancras, try as the left-wing stirrers may to ignore it.
The need is not for workers to go demonstrating and rioting, but to examine the structure of society. Housing and rents have been a problem for a long time, with each party putting forward its own alleged solution. “Vote for me,” says Bloggs, “And I will stabilise your rents.” “A vote for me,” pleads Sloggs, “Will secure a protected tenancy with greater freedom for moving rents to a natural level.” But voting for either of them, or anybody like them, means support for the system in which housing and all the other necessities of life can only be obtained by paying for them. An increase in the price of housing, whether it be rents or payments on a mortgage, means at the very least a temporary problem for the people who depend on a wage or a salary for their living. And if they sort out that problem, there is always another, equally pressing and equally serious.
It is no pipe dreaming, nor an incitement to defy the landlord, to say that it is not necessary to pay rent. We could build living accommodation to fulfil the needs and desires of the people. We could have a world in which all wealth is produced to satisfy human needs, a world without landlords, private or state. To get that, we do not need marches and violence. We need knowledge of the society we live in.
St. Pancras, even by working class standards is not an affluent place, despite extensive rebuilding. It never was. Here live workers who, just like those in the suburbs, depend on a wage for their living – but often their wage is so small hut their dependence upon it is almost desperate. No wonder a rent increase touched them on the raw. It is sad to workers so courageously defying the powers of capitalism, knowing that they lack the essential equipment for victory. How much happier, if they got down to understanding of society. With that, they could win the only victory worth living.