Blog O4P

The Organising behind Kenmure Street (13th of May 2021)

A Reflection from the No Evictions Network

By guest bloggers, Hussein Mitha and Hannah Hughes, members of Glasgow No Evictions Network. Hannah participated in the Organising for Power Programme

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Tripod.

The successful anti-raids action on Kenmure Street on 13th May was a spontaneous mobilisation, but one with a decades-long history of organising behind it. It is the latest iteration of a long history of militant working class resistance to evictions in Glasgow dating back to the days of Red Clydeside and Mary Barbour’s rent strikes over a century ago. At Kenmure Street, a Glasgow community demonstrated an unbreakable solidarity—ultimately more powerful than the Home Office and Police Scotland’s show of force—resulting in the release of two men detained in an immigration van for over eight hours. Lakhvir Singh, one of the men detained and later released said “I am lucky that my fate brought me to Glasgow, where the people come out to support one of their own,” perfectly encapsulating the spirit of anti-racist working class solidarity of the day, in which hundreds of neighbours and activists surrounded an immigration van and chanted “These are our neighbours, let them go!” a slogan which directly breaks the Home Office’s attempts to demonise, ‘other,’ stigmatise and scapegoat migrants.

Glasgow No Evictions Network was formed in 2018 as a campaign to stop a programme of lock-changes targeted at people living in asylum accommodation by Serco (who previously held the contract for housing asylum seekers in Glasgow). The wider aims of the Network were to make the Home Office’s web of racist border policies and intrusions unworkable through popular resistance and civil disobedience; to create a network for building power and solidarity across struggles and groups in Glasgow; to raise awareness of the brutal conditions asylum seekers often face in Scotland, and offer practical help & direct support to those suffering under those conditions. Thanks to No Evictions Network, other grassroot & 3rd sector groups, and legal challenges, lock-change evictions were halted and Serco lost the contract.

We formed Glasgow No Evictions Network from several groups operating across Glasgow. These groups include MORE (Migrants Organising for Rights & Empowerment), a group of migrants and members of the community campaigning for the right to work, study, good housing and to be treated with dignity; The Unity Centre, a collective established in 2006 to provide solidarity and support to asylum seekers with a 24-hour emergency hotline for people to report sightings of immigration vans; and Living Rent, Scotland’s tenants union, campaigning against landlordism and against tenant evictions. 

Initially the Network set up neighbourhood groups across Glasgow in order to build local community solidarity and raise awareness. These local groups were strengthened by using community organising methods of door-knocking and stalls: face to face interactions with people as a way to build trust and increase engagement. The past year or so the Network has reverted to a more central organising group with ‘working groups’ tackling different issues. Since the success of Kenmure Street we have seen an increase in membership and therefore capacity and are now able to move back into a neighbourhood organising model. This week has seen the launch of Govanhill, Pollokshields, Maryhill / North West and East End anti-raids groups, with more groups on the way! We know that  having strong networks of people in different areas of the city is key to preventing further immigration raids and for building a sustainable and effective organising group.

The diversity of groups and individuals who make up the Network was visible on the day of Kenmure street itself when activists turned up with placards from a Living Rent demonstration in neighbouring Govanhill the previous week. Here, one hundred people from Govanhill’s Living Rent branch had staged a socially distanced protest outside a home where a tenant was threatened with eviction. The solidarity  was carried forward. Other memories were recalled on the day of the Kenmure Street action, especially the tactics of the Glasgow Girls, a group of activists who campaigned and resisted dawn raids fifteen years ago.

On the day of the Kenmure Street resistance, the tactics learned through overlapping experiences of different struggles came to the fore: using a variety of tactics including direct action and legal observing, the immigration van was prevented from immediately departing, buying time while other activists could gather round. No Evictions Network used WhatsApp and social media in order to spread the word; a more effective version of ‘phone trees’ used back in the day. We know that being able to quickly communicate across the city is vital to prevent further raids.

Kenmure Street could easily have led to two people being forcibly detained and deported. There are many factors that prevented this happening, in part it was by chance that the van was spotted by someone who knew what it meant and who had the means to raise the alarm. Beyond that it was a success because No Evictions has spent the past 3 years organising in solidarity and building networks that meant when the call came to protect the van, the message was spread wide and people trusted No Evictions enough to show up. Another element leading to success is the historical militant working class resistance of Glasgow that has previously brought dawn raids to an end, the outrage that promises had been broken, and the knowledge that dawn raids can be stopped again.

How can Kenmure Street be replicated?

There are many different kinds of immigration raids that are carried out all the time across the UK – in workplaces, in homes and on the streets. 13th May scenes were unprecedented but they do not need to be unique. Any community, anywhere, can respond in this way. There are anti-raids networks all over the UK that you can and should get involved with. 

Here are a list of other actions you can take:

  1. If there isn’t an anti-raids group already in your area, now would be a great time to get one set up – in every town, in every city, in every borough! If there is one, get involved!
  2. Know your rights! Print out immigration bust cards and share them far and wide – ask local businesses to distribute them, carry some in your bag and give them to friends. 
  3. Attend an anti raids training; the more people across the UK who feel empowered to spot and stop a raid from happening the better.
  4. Ask local employers to put up posters stating immigration enforcement officers are not welcome. Spread images of immigration enforcement vans so people know what to look out for.