Submitted to Autonomy News via Liverpool Anarchist
Recently around 200 students withheld their rent at the University of Manchester. They were locked inside their blocks, after being lured into living at the university with the promise of safe in-person teaching. A revolt followed, with students tearing down fences that were erected around their blocks! Nine students also occupied a disused 19-story accommodation block. Why that many rooms, which they described as an “upgrade”, are empty while so many sleep rough is a mystery only capitalism can explain. While the occupation was largely symbolic, it did a great deal to raise awareness, and thus harm the reputation of the university.
Initially they were offered a measly 5% rent reduction in return for an end to the strike. The Student Union fell over themselves to accept this offer, but since UoM Rent Strike and 9K 4 WHAT? actually organised the strike the union was ignored. In the end their persistence won an impressive 30% reduction for the first term! Roughly £600-900 for every student, not just those that participated. This is being proclaimed as the biggest victory to ever come out of a student rent strike. The strike is set to carry on into January unless a similar concession is gained for the whole year. They were following in the footsteps of 1,400 Bristol students, and it looks like it’s spreading across the country with strikes breaking out from Newcastle to Brighton. Hopefully it continues to spread, and outside of the more expensive “elite” universities. An education in direct action is worth far more than any university degree.
In contrast, at the University of Liverpool, as of December 6th, the pathetic Student Union are merely petitioning management to “Refund the Rent”. While one demand has been won (the right to cancel contracts) this is undoubtedly an attempt from management to avoid the outbreak of a strike. If students want a rent strike they will have to do it themselves.
Obviously the vast majority of us aren’t students, so why should we care? Perhaps most importantly helping them is the right thing to do. Solidarity goes both ways – for example students helped the Abercromby rent strikers in 1969 – we shouldn’t expect support if we aren’t willing to give it. Furthermore, student accommodation often ends up forcing local working class people to move out due to increased rent costs (gentrification); if students can get rent cuts this process might be slowed down or even reversed.
Crucially, we should be trying to learn from their example. Direct action can help us keep our livelihood and liberty. The basics of rent strikes are quite simple: convincing people to start and continue withholding their rent, resisting evictions and using other forms of direct action such as occupations in support. Obviously they are easier to organise for students living in halls, but this should also apply for some blocks of flats or council estates. There is also no need for “paid professionals”, looking to fund their salaries, to organise on our behalf. No one is saying it’s easy or we are guaranteed a victory, but if freshers can manage to organise a rent strike, then why can’t we?