St Pancras – Labour vs Capital

At Kings Cross station militant suffragettes handed out leaflets to the crowds of football fans arriving in London for the 1908 FA Cup Final. There were sharp words at times. Local working class women joined in and said to the men that they should listen to the Suffragettes. ‘They’re the only ones who talk sense’.

The men started to listen and read the leaflets. As they marched off to the game they chanted ‘Votes for Women’.

During the First World War, the Workers’ Suffrage Federation organised anti-war demonstrations and meetings in the area. There were collections outside Kings Cross station with the slogan ‘Milk for Babies’. With many bread winners in the forces working class women and their children were forced on the dole. The authorities would means test them. As the war progressed the meetings and demonstrations for peace became larger. Often soldiers in uniform would join them.

Hidden histories. Hidden transcripts. What other history could there be?

I took the early morning train as I wanted to be in London for Sunday morning when there might be fewer people around. There were people. Distressed, upset, silently screaming – won’t someone help me? I could have taken some photographs that would disturb and anger. But everyone has a right to dignity. The man sat on the edge of the pavement between two cars; his head on his knees and his arms wrapped around himself, sobbing. The man who stood immobile over steel railings for so long. His head resting on his folded arms. He could not be asleep. No one could sleep in that position. The woman with a trolley full of bottles of water and a watering can.

And all around this huge expansion of wealth and power.

There are posters in the streets. What will become of Somers Town? It’s grubby, true. But so too are some of the best people I know. Not everything needs glitz and glamour. How much shiny glass does the world need?

Levita House, Ossulston Estate designed by the architect George Topham Forrest. He was inspired by Red Vienna which he visited in 1927. The socialist council in Vienna built 64,000 homes between 1924 and the early 1930s. The housing was paid for by a tax on the rich, a tax on luxury spending. Debts were written off. To this day, that housing forms the core of the housing for the working class of Vienna.

The housing in Vienna has a strong visual identity. The iconography includes working women, mothers, children. Resources were put into child clinics, kindergartens. It was acknowledged that unmarried women had children (instead of pretending it doesn’t happen). For the time the approach was radical, almost revolutionary. The Viennese socialist council made sure that each new mother had a minimum of equipment and provisions. There is a little of Red Vienna in this statue at St Marys House.

Oakshott estate. When it was built it was modern housing. By modern housing we mean good quality and low cost. We do not mean the crumbs of ‘affordable’ housing which the volume house builders (who demand 20 percent profits) offer. We mean modern housing; low cost, good quality. Catherine Bauer outlined this in the 1930s in her brilliant book Modern Housing. This is an introduction by Barbara Penner.

But Britain is going backwards in the provision of housing.

What is going on?

Property development expanded after the Second World War. The Euston Tower was one of the consequences. Capital accumulates in these tall buildings. But it cannot remain frozen in this way. The generation of tall buildings constructed in the 1960s and 1970s are being pulled down. Aside from the interests of capital, might there be any other interests? And let’s not even start on the impact on the environment of this constant mixing and spraying of concrete across the urban landscape.

The inside of St Mary Magdalene church. There are free books, free CDs and free clothes. Inner city churches often continue to be places of warmth and comfort. Without people helping each other – voluntary work, food banks, charities – the destitution in Britain would be much worse. And it is already bad enough.

In the UK, 14 million live in poverty including 4.5 million children.

Old St Pancras Church. The service had just finished and people were outside enjoying the sunshine. I bought a couple of postcards, one to send to a friend. I would like to thank him for a lovely supper party a week ago. I asked the man in the church how to pay.

‘In the box mate’, he said, ‘do you want a cup of tea?” This is what people miss. And when you find it, you know its the quality without a name. Nothing. Nothing at all. Just a cup of tea and a friendly manner.

I had a very entertaining discussion with a German woman here. She’s in London for a couple of days.
‘One of the problems’, I said, ‘is that there has been a huge psychological change among many white collar workers. None of them want to go back to the office’.

She literally held her sides laughing. ‘This is the same in Germany’, she said. ‘First they said perhaps go back in August, and no-one did. Then they said, perhaps the beginning of September, but no one has gone back. Now they say, perhaps the end of September’.

This is why we need an international revolutionary movement. Then we would find out this stuff more easily. I mean, this was just a random encounter. But quite militant.

Instead of modern housing – good quality and low cost – the expansion of capital.

There is always housing for the rich and colour supplement lives.

A trillion dollar company that does everything it can to not pay its taxes.

Now imagine if any of us didn’t pay the rent or the mortgage or the gas or electricity bill or mobile phone or water or gas?

The struggle between labour and capital continues. Let’s hope St Pancras wins. It has a good tradition.

And despite its lack of corporate branding it has more character. Something capital has never been able to accumulate, commodify or monetise.

The battle is becoming sharper. It’s about a lot of different things.

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