History of the Communist Party of Great Britain, 1941-1951 - Vol. 4

By Noreen Branson | Go to book overview

12
THE SQUATTERS MOVEMENT
1946

July 1946 saw the start of a squatters movement in which Communist Party members were to play an outstanding part. It was to prove a great embarrassment to right-wing Labour leaders, particularly because of its communist links.

It began as a spontaneous reaction to the appalling housing situation, and communists were quickly involved – as they always were in movements from below – participating, helping, organising. It showed how utterly untrue were allegations previously made by Herbert Morrison that the communist rank and file played no part in shaping policies but were subject to orders from above.1

Background to the movement was the demobilisation of some 3½ million men and women, many of whom found themselves rejoining their families in intolerable conditions. Even before the war, millions had lived in homes which were damp and lacking sanitary facilities. Since then, bombing had destroyed half a million houses and damaged many more. The Labour Government’s response was to give priority to the repair of war damage; control the use of building materials by a system of licensing; introduce a programme of temporary, pre-fabricated dwellings, and to concentrate new building in the hands of local authorities. The wartime power of local councils to requisition empty houses and flats for the use of bombed-out families was extended to cover requisitioning for all those inadequately housed.

In practice, these good intentions were not producing the results expected. The new council house building programme was failing to get going; there was an acute shortage of building materials and many of those available were being siphoned off into the black market. And, though there were many vacant properties in London, Tory-controlled authorities were refusing to requisition them to accommodate those on their waiting lists. As Bill Wainwright put it ‘good regulations are one

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