On the last Friday in July Serco emailed less than a dozen public authorities and NGOs in Glasgow to inform them that as of the following Monday it would be implementing a policy of changing the locks on the accommodation of asylum-seekers who had been refused asylum.
It is unlikely that the timing of the announcement was coincidental. The Scottish and UK Parliaments were both in recess, as too was Glasgow City Council.
At a rate of up to ten a week, 300 asylum-seekers – many of whom would be in the process of appealing but still awaiting written confirmation of this, or, alternatively, might be in the process of lodging a fresh claim – would be given seven days notice of the lock change.
Asylum-seekers at risk of being put out onto the streets include attempted suicides, asylum-seekers with suicidal ideations, pregnant women, and couples or lone parents with children.
The Serco statement claimed that the new policy – which is not entirely new, given that it has previously carried out some lock changes – had been discussed with Glasgow City Council in the preceding months. The Council denies this.
Confronted with a choice of believing Serco or Glasgow City Council, it is difficult to decide which is the less credible.
Serco’s announcement triggered a wave of protests. Some 500 attended a city-centre rally on 31 July. And on 3 and 4 August hundreds attended further protests outside the Immigration Service offices in Govan.
A loose campaigning network emerged in response to Serco’s announcement, bringing together the Living Rent campaign, which is best placed for organising physical opposition to evictions, refugee organisations, and political parties and activists.
With the exception of the Tories, all political parties have condemned Serco’s announcement. Glasgow Labour and SNP MPs have pledged to turn up at the homes of asylum-seekers facing eviction and help to physically prevent the evictions from going ahead.
Around 10 Glasgow Housing Associations rent out accommodation to Serco so that the latter can use it for asylum-seekers. A number of them have told Serco that they will not allow any changes to the “fixtures and fittings” in the flats they are renting out. This covers lock changes.
The Scottish Labour Party is backing the anti-evictions campaign as well. Its Glasgow office has sent out emails urging members to turn up to the protests which have been held, and to register online in order to be told of mobilisations to stop attempted evictions.
This should be ABC for Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) and their members. But years of right-wing domination have hollowed out many Glasgow CLPs, leaving behind only handfuls of activists.
And the success of right-wingers in being selected as Prospective Parliamentary Candidates has created ‘conflicting priorities’: relate to real conflicts and real campaigns in the real world; or spend Saturday mornings shoving #SNPbad pieces of paper through people’s letterboxes.
The former, apart from being correct in and of itself, is a way to rebuild Labour’s base in local communities and among younger people. The latter, so the right wing believes, is a ticket for careerists to a £75,000 a year job in London. And that is not just their priority but their sole concern.
Confronted with a wave of protests, opposition from politicians and Housing Associations, hostile media coverage, and two legal challenges, Serco was forced to retreat.
Last weekend Serco announced that it was ‘pausing’ its new policy and that no lock changes would be implemented, nor seven-day notices of lock changes issued, over the following three weeks.
Serco’s probable calculation is that the wave of anger will dissipate over those three weeks, allowing them to implement their policy – subject to the outcome of the pending legal challenges – relatively unhindered.
The next three weeks may or may not provide a breathing space. Serco should not be taken at its word. It is therefore vital to maintain the momentum of the campaigning against Serco in order to ensure that they do not attempt to implement their lock change policy in three weeks.