With the UK’s Covid-19 situation worsening at an exponential rate, you’d have hoped local government officials spent their weekends productively: drafting up plans to suspend rent payments for council tenants, for example, and putting pressure on local landlords to do the same. After all, measures such as these would significantly help to limit the spread of the virus and improve the lives of their constituents, by ensuring that people are able to self-isolate without the fear of falling behind with the rent.
Instead, it would seem that some local councillors – particularly those from the Labour Party – have decided that the most useful thing they can do is disrupt the emergent mutual aid network that has popped up in response to government inaction.
The form this disruption takes is largely similar in each case: a local councillor joins a locally organised WhatsApp group and begins to post confusing and/or condescending messages discouraging self-organised action, and trying to assert council control. Here’s a prime example from a Labour councillor in Lewisham (though I have screenshots of similar behaviour from councillors across London and the UK more generally):
Questions of safeguarding are obviously vitally important; no one is disputing that. However, it is an issue that is already being considered within these groups, by people who have years of experience in these matters. And for those that don’t: Covid-19 Mutual Aid UK and the National Food Service are running an online training session on safeguarding for local groups this coming Tuesday.
But the councillor in question already knows all of this: he’s in the group and he’s seen the messages. The issue isn’t really about safeguarding but power. When people like him talk about the need to capture and manage the energy of these self-organised efforts in a ‘responsible’ manner, what they’re saying is that ordinary people can’t be trusted to look out for each other; that we should wait by the phone for orders from our superiors.
Well too fucking bad. Those of us organising in local mutual aid groups are painfully aware that the government (both local and national) are not prepared for this thing; that the local services and infrastructure needed to support those most vulnerable to Covid-19 have been decimated by a decade of murderous class-warfare, popularly known as ‘austerity’. We know that they aren’t coming to save us because they have been killing our friends and family all our fucking lives, with benefit cuts and sanctions, piss poor wages and sky-high rents, racist cops and immigration detention centres. We’ve realised that the only people that will save us are ourselves. And our ‘betters’? They’re worried that we might develop a taste for it.
Our message to local government is simple: work with us, not against us.