The mood at the meeting - which was organised by the Liverpool Claimant Network - was one of militancy and determination. The majority where from outside 'the usual suspects' left circles, and this is clearly an issue which has the potential to mobilise a lot of working class people over the coming months. There was a sense that for many, standing up and fighting for their livelihoods is now seen as the easiest and most realistic option.
Things kicked off with a presentation from one of the main organisers, who gave a brief introduction to what the tax will mean. As the Solidarity Federation report summarised:
"As of April 1st this year, housing association tenants who have a spare room will be faced with a reduction in their housing benefit of between £40 and £80 a month (a reduction of up to 25%) as part of the government’s welfare reform plans. In Liverpool alone, 12,000 tenants will be affected. Nationally, the figure is around 660,000. Meanwhile, the Empty Homes Agency says there are 725,000 homes lying empty across the country, enough to house 1.8 million people."The huge availability of 'spare' housing stock blows a massive hole in the government's claim that the measures are necessary to ensure multi-bedroomed residences are there for those who need them. As for the 'no money' argument, this should be rejected on the basis that it was bankers not working class who triggered the economic crisis - and were bailed out afterwards. Besides, if the proposals floated yesterday come to fruition, the enforcement of the tax will cost the government far more than they 'save' through making reduced benefits payments.
In the open discussion part of the afternoon, it was broadly agreed that 'solidarity networks' will be set up based on locality within the city, with all networks joining up through a central 'hub'. People will go into their communities to rally support over the coming weeks, and direct action will be taken in the run-up to April, and as the powers that be try to wring out every penny from the working class.
Comparisons were raised between the Bedroom Tax and the largely successful resistance to the Irish Household Charge. The Kirkby rent strike of 1972 was also recalled. But perhaps most iconic is the local 'can't pay, won't pay' direct action campaigns which made the Poll Tax unworkable towards the end of the Thatcher regime.
Though the end of the meeting was necessarily chaotic, I left with the distinct impression that the grapes of wrath are growing heavy for the vintage, and 2013 could be an extremely difficult year for the coalition government.
The Combat the Bedroom Tax on Merseyside Facebook group can be found here. The email list is contactable at email@example.com. A generic Bedroom Tax leaflet will be made available and can be collected from News From Nowhere bookshop, 96 Bold St in Liverpool, from next week.