In the past year, the Rent Strike Collective has gained momentum and popularity across the UK, with even the NUS supporting student rent strikes, along with the Radical Housing Network. Alex Sheehan from the Reading Marxists looks at the tactic of the rent strike and the way in which this can be linked to the wider struggle for socialism.
In the past year, the Rent Strike Collective has gained momentum and popularity across the UK, with even the NUS supporting student rent strikes, along with the Radical Housing Network. The group organised a “weekender” in September 2016 to train new students in how to organise a rent strike, gain media attention, and other topical talks.
What is a rent strike?
The idea of a rent strike is to withhold rent from halls providers, landlords, or the university, in order to decrease accommodation fees, receive compensation, or improve living standards. This method has proved effective at UCL, with bursaries being made available to low-income students in 2016, and students being refunded some of their rent in 2015. Over 25 universities across the UK have now launched, or plan to launch, rent strikes.
This action on a nationwide basis shows students’ discontent with the way their higher education is being run. Universities have been run as businesses for years, focusing more on profits than the standard of education or welfare of their students, and rent strikes are an extremely effective way of making the Chancellors, Vice Chancellors, and unions take into account the student voice. But this discontent goes beyond that of individual universities, or even the higher education system as a whole – an increasing number of students are sick of the capitalist system itself. Rejecting exploitation at the hands of those who should be educating us means rejecting exploitation in all its forms.
Why are rent strikes important?
The reasoning behind rent strikes is simple: universities should not be run for profit. The recent popularity of this tactic has shown that students are angry, and willing to take part in a disruptive and militant activity in order to solve their problems.
Withholding rent hits the university or halls provider where it hurts: their profits. This way you show who really has the power. If a capitalist loses their method of exploiting surplus value from workers and students, they have nothing, because the numbers are on our side. This is partly why student rent strikes haven’t yet resulted in legal action against tenants. If legal action was taken, media attention would inevitably be caught, leading to damage to the university’s reputation, putting others off attending. Plus more students would learn that they can take control over their own living and financial conditions through mass action. This is exactly what the owners of halls and rented properties don’t want, they want an easy and hassle-free way of making a profit.
Students have been exploited for years, and the Rent Strike Collective is fighting that exploitation, not only by helping organise reduced accommodation fees, but by supporting students in their fight for free education, shown by their support at the 19th of November demo in London.
How can rent strikes help the fight for socialism?
Students who are willing to go on rent strike are students who are willing to link up with workers who are suffering similar exploitation, not just in their housing situation but also in their jobs. It is important for Marxist societies throughout the UK to take part in rent strikes, support their cause, and explain the parallels between rent exploitation and exploitation in the wider world, thereby linking the struggle of students with workers.
Marxist societies all over the country should take up the banner of the rent strike. We need to discuss and understand the process and theory of capitalist exploitation. And we also need to practically fight against it. As Marx said: philosophers have merely interpreted the world; the point, however, is to change it!