WCU Reading Group - Tenant Union Reading - March 27, 2024

At the 2024-03-07 General Meeting, we voted to read two Tenant Union pieces for our next hybrid reading group.

If people want to start the discussion in this thread, that would be great. It can help give us a better idea of how to shape the discussion during the reading group.

I attached the two readings below:

If you want the complete book for the second reading, The City and the Grassroots: A Cross-Cultural Theory of Urban Social Movements by Castells, please check the Books folder in Google Drive.

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Anyone else unsure of what’s meant by consumption-orientated issues?

I think the author means “consuming” the goods and services necessary for workers’ daily reproduction, such as housing, food, and other necessities. Good question to bring up during the RG though!

Some commonalities…

Women were crucial in both Glasgow and Harlem.


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Each piece points to meetings taking place with regular frequency. Even today, tenant associations in unions like LATU (Los Angeles Tenant Union) will hold weekly meetings with their members. And I think that is something really important to consider–the level of engagement we have with tenants at CalVilla, especially at this early stage. Because just as the argument gets made that we’ll lose momentum on Palestine without back-to-back actions (rallies), we should be equally concerned about losing momentum with CalVilla residents when our points of contact with them are so few and far between.


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Unfortunately, we did not record the Reading Group meeting but below are some notes I took during it. Thank you, @collectivestruggle, @Englishpete08, and @Simp4thedevil, for attending!

Notes from Reading Group

The role of women was important during the rent strike. We discussed how they had a unique perspective from caring for the home and increasingly participating in the factory labor force. Women already understood the “consumption process” outside of wage demands and were able to push beyond to focus on demands that went beyond better pay or wages.

The tenant associations’ meetings every week were also important. It meant people were constantly talking to each other, creating new social bonds, and building solidarity. The strike movement brought together people from the nicer artisan areas, the working class, and the poorer neighborhoods. With how polarized and alienated people are now, it is difficult to imagine something similar happening today where people are able to overcome class differences and prejudices.

An organized left presence had been agitating around making housing a right and laying the groundwork for these strikes. Left-wing parties campaigned on the issues, and they helped set up associations, which ended up playing a pivotal role in organizing the strike.

A lot had to line up for the strike to succeed. The war, the factories concentrating labor, women joining the workforce, and the fact that capital actually took the tenants’ side. And when tenants and labor unions tried to fight on their own, they did not succeed.

However, there were some critiques made by the the author. The strike did not directly confront the capitalist class. The workers were fighting against the landlords and property owners, but the industrialist capitalists who employed them ended up being on their side. The factory owners supported the demands for rent control and public housing because they wanted a stable workforce and to avoid strikes in their factories by workers struggling to pay for rent.

The author also pointed out that by focusing on consumption issues and appealing to the state for reforms, the strike was not fundamentally challenging capital. Instead, it actually helped stabilize and rationalize capitalism by making it easier for workers to reproduce their labor power. The power of the capitalist class was not broken, but a segment of capital was constrained.

This Rent Strike was an example of working people’s ability to win significant reforms and get the state to treat housing as a right. It still showed the power of working-class self-organization and the politicization of everyday life. However, we should recognize that these tactics ultimately failed and that in many ways, the conditions for repeating what happened 100 years ago are worse now.

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This is a good example of how reforms can be rolled back. If it takes a herculean effort to win a reform, it takes a similar effort to keep it in place if capital is allowed to remain, regroup, and attack your reforms.

2024-03-07 Reading Group

Attendance

@chima
@Englishpete08
@Simp4thedevil
@collectivestruggle

Meeting Notes (*I didn’t actively take notes during the meeting. I’m going off of memory, so my apologies in advance if I misstate any part of the discussion.)

-This event was open to the public and included on Working Class Unity’s calendar.
-Duration: about 1 hour and 15 minutes
-Since none of us had completed the reading about Harlem’s rent strike, we kept discussion to the PDF on Glasgow.
-Harpreet read the following excerpt: “All day long in the streets, in the halls, in the houses, meetings were held. Kitchen meetings, street meetings, mass meetings, meetings of every kind.”; This made me think of the recent ATUN (Autonomous Tenant Union Network) Virtual Conference. During that online gathering, I learned that some tenant associations within LATU (Los Angeles Tenant Union) meet weekly with their members. The TAs located in the north would meet in outdoor spaces (in nature), share their cultural dishes for people to enjoy and have their talks. But for some TAs in LATU, that wasn’t an option. Some areas don’t have a backyard space. One group, in Korea Town, if I remember correctly, rented an office space for people to come together. Unfortunately, they found that that didn’t work for them. Using an office space and ordering pizza just didn’t engender the same camaraderie the way the other TA’s approach did. So, then they tried something else. They met in the their laundry room area and that actually ended up working better for them. Another group in Arizona talked about how they would go to Taco Bell and Jack in the Box. Other folks talked about being worried about surveillance and feeling the need to meet somewhere outside of where the tenants lived to avoid the prying eyes of the landlord, property management, etc. A tenant association also talked about meeting off site for a year before eventually coming around to the belief that they needed to claim the space to do their organizing where they lived. And when the landlord or property manager called the cops on them and tried to tell them they couldn’t have their meeting, they stood their ground. And, eventually, the cops left. They described it as a battle that needed to be won and one that helped unify tenants. Anyway, I’m sharing all of this to say that what works for one TA might not work for us, and we can keep trying different things until we find what does.
-Peter brought up the role of women in Glasgow. From that, we took a bit of tangent on how Left groups tend to be made up of mostly men and why that might be. Harpreet brought up how the Right is actually much better in terms of participation from women. For Working Class Unity, it’s definitely something for us to think about–what could we be doing differently, how can we be more welcoming to parents and their families, etc.; In some respects, I think the war was a bit emancipatory for women. While their husbands were off fighting, married women were thrusted into this new role as the primary breadwinner for their families–opening up their economic, social and political lives in a way.
-Peter also brought up how the strike had the buy-in from various parts of the community/society (See Page 4: “In early summer, mass demonstrations expressed the strength of the movement that in August had reached, according to Ann and Vincent Flynn, a wide variety of communities. Besides Govan and Partick, strongholds of engineers and skilled workers, tenants on strike were reported in Parkhead, Pollokshaws, Pollok, Cowcaddens, Kelvingrove, Ibrox, Govanhill, St. Rollox, Townhead, Springburn, Maryhill, Fairfield, Blackfriars, and Woodside. As Damer points out, ‘What is interesting to note about these areas of the city is that they are markedly different: heavily industrial areas, more respectable artisanal areas, and slum areas.’”). This was made possible through the creation of a common identity. And unlike today, where unions and organizing is often fixated on the workplace, Glasgow’s rent strike was also about people organizing in the places they lived (See Page 4: “As Melling correctly observes, ‘Here lay the strength of the workers and the secret of the Rent Strike’s success. Not only was there a common identity between many shipbuilding, engineering, and munition workers (often working for the same firm), but also between the point of production and the communities where the workers lived.’”).
-Part of me used to think that the Left could be so much more successful if it just looked more closely at the past, took those lessons/strategies and applied it to today. But I guess I’ve started to see just how difficult it is to reproduce those same kind of victories because the conditions, under which our struggles take place, do not stay fixed. Under the backdrop of a war, workers in Glasgow were able to leverage the threat of a work stoppage because the industries (engineering, shipbuilding) were localized and the labor could not be readily replaced. Nowadays, so much of production does not happen domestically. So, we don’t have that same leverage. Also, back then, workers not only saw each other while they were on the clock but they often lived in the same places. This undoubtedly helped in creating the community bonds necessary for the strike. Although, Harpreet pointed out that there are local industries where that kind of organized workforce exists (the Port of Stockton) or where an organized workforce could exist (Ex: the many Amazon warehouses in our region). Ultimately, we have no control over when a shock to the system–like a war, a coup, a natural disaster, a pandemic–will take place and open up the space for us to push for something better. But, in the meantime, we have to build the community structures and organizations that will allow us to respond when the time comes.
-RE: Format of the reading group
~For this reading group session, I think it was fine that we weren’t as structured as we could have been, given how small the group was.
~Peter had said he didn’t have a problem with it being less structured, but he also wouldn’t mind if it were more structured.
~Harpreet talked about using the Discourse Forum more, so that even people who can’t attend the Zoom call can share their thoughts and interact with members about the reading.
-Because we had members missing, who had previously expressed interest in the reading group, I suggested waiting for the upcoming General Meeting to select material for next reading group session.