Tag Archives: campaign

Launched

This is kind of what I said a couple of weeks ago at the Renters United launch. If you haven’t joined yet and are interested in these issues you can do so here: http://www.rentersunited.org.nz/join

In the ongoing debate about housing, renters are conspicuous in their absence. Politicians and the media, comfortable in their first, second and third homes, tend to look on renting a temporary circumstance. They view renting through rose tinted glasses: three character-building years in a freezing beer-soaked flat before getting on the property ladder.

As such, all the problems of — and solutions to — the “housing crisis” are about home ownership. Well I think that we all know that is not the whole picture, its time that renters got together and said so. This is what we want Renters United to be: a democratic union of renters campaigning to make renting better for all renters.

So a few of us came together and starting building for this day. Early on we realised that if we want people to join something, we need to tell them what it is and just as importantly, what it believes.

So, in the great tradition of progressive organisations, we drafted a manifesto. It’s not set in stone, we haven’t nailed it to any doors anywhere, but we came up with seven things we hope will resonate with you all tonight and with renters in general:

We believe renters should:

  • Live in a safe and healthy home
  • Pay affordable rent
  • Find and rent a home free from discrimination, intimidation and harassment
  • Expect a respectful and responsive relationship with their landlord
  • Have a rental agreement that grants them long-term security and stability
  • Have good cooking, laundry and bathroom facilities
  • And make their home their own though reasonable changes

Which of these things we focus on and how we do it will of course be up to our members. So, We, Need Members!

We need members to give us clear direction about where to start, because the issues are big and messy. We need members to spread our messages. We need members to recruit more members and most of all we need members to fight and win for renters.

As well as growing our membership our other initial goal is to connect with the many allies out there already working on the issue. We want to complement the work that people like Sarah and Phillipa are doing to advance policy and research on housing, and — at the sharp end — I know we can work closely with Julia and her colleagues to fight the individual battles too.

We need to challenge those with the power over renters and housing, we need renters demanding change directly and we are going to organise to make that happen.

We need to turn renting from a isolated and atomised experience to a uniting one, and the first step to doing that is to get renters and their supporters to join Renters United.

So all that is left to do is a bit of virtual ribbon cutting. We don’t have a bottle of champagne to break or a velvet curtain to open, but we do have a web server on stand-by ready to make the first version of our website live.

Please stand by:

Web server screen saying the site is now live.

Is the home the new place to organise?

One of my motivations for trying to get something going for renters was my feeling that people on the left need to start thinking about finding new ways to engage and organise people as workplaces becomes more fragmented and employment more precarious.

In the UK, Sarah Kwei is wondering the same thing as casualisation and fragmentisation makes workplace organising much harder there too:

Contrast this with 2014, when more than 1 million workers exist on zero-hours contracts and are told via texts whether they have work or not. The insecurity of the lowest paid is much the same, but the potential for workers to access one another and organise for something better has been undermined by these increasingly individualising practices.

In addition, most low-paid work is unstable. Workers frequently find themselves performing different roles over several months – perhaps a delivery driver one month, a shelf stacker the next – interspersed by periods of unemployment. [With the decline of industrialised Britain, few are able to look to one local company as their most likely source of employment. […] Such a radically different workplace poses significant problems to traditional forms of worker organisation, especially if most workers will struggle to say who their colleagues are or, indeed, their employer is, from one month to the next.

In this context it’s not surprising that some of the most inspiring (and successful) direct political action in the UK is centred instead around housing. Groups like the Focus E14 Mothers have shown that campaigning over quality and availablity of housing can capture the public imagination.

The issues around housing in New Zealand are markedly different from those in the UK but the core idea – that this rediscovered option for community organising has a lot of potential – rings true for me.

Sarah Kwei concludes by saying that she thinks that cooperation between established unions, with their organising expertise and resources and new community organisations is important. I can’t disagree and once we have our experiment in community organising up and running finding common ground and ways or working with unions will undoubtably strength us too.

What do we call it?

Here are some ideas for what this thing could be called:

Wellington Tenants Union

The good: “Tenants Union” is the term most commonly used overseas for these types of organisations and there also a Manawatu Tenants Union. There was a Wellington Tenants Union in the 1970s so there is a nice historical connection there.

The bad: As already discussed, I’d prefer to use the term “renter” over tenant and for some (not me) union can variously have a militant, stuffy, out-of-date or rigid connotation.

Tenants Protection Association

The good: This is the name of existing similar organisations in Christchurch, Auckland and Hamilton.

The bad: Has a strong advocacy focus, both in reality for the existing organisations and in its description (protecting tenants, not organising them to defend their own rights).

Generation Rent

The good: Has “rent” in it and there is an NGO in Britain that is interested in similar issues with this name.

The bad: Generation Rent in the UK is very much in the NGO mould, as opposed to being a member-driven democratic activist thing. It also feels to me like it is focussed on young people (perhaps due to the association with Generation Zero).

Renters together

The good: Uses the word renter and provides a sense of unity without saying union.

The bad: Doesn’t mention Wellington (Wellington Renters Together doesn’t work I don’t think), possibly a little passive sounding?

Wellington Renters / Renters Wellington

The good: Has who and where right there on the tin.

The bad: Doesn’t say what it is or give a sense of collectivism or unity.

I’d love to here what you think of these options or any other ideas you might have.

Keeping in touch

In my day job as a web designer it’s easy to think that every problem can be solved by the internet (ha!) but the reality is that there is still a significant minority of people without internet access at home.

Statistics New Zealand says that 85% of households in Wellington have internet access. Of thosewho don’t most report that they don’t have internet either due to a lack of interest or because of the cost and opting out of internet access because of the cost grew between 2009 and 2012 (when the most recent data is from).

I think it’s a fair assumption that a fair proportion of those without internet access will be low-income renters and we certainly want to reach these people and get them actively engaged in our campaigns and other work.

With this in mind we need to consider whether we can rely on the internet as our only – or primary – medium for recruiting and communicating with members.

As with all organising face-to-face engagement is usually the most effective way to get people involved but even once we have recruited someone we need to consider how best to keep them up-to-date and active.

So, setting aside a website for the organisation for now, this graph is great place to start when considering how we might reach out to members and stay in touch (after all, we’ll be just like one of the family):

A few observations:

  • Direct contact via phone or text is likely to be the most effective method.
  • Texting is the clear favourite for frequent communication.
  • Social media does not feature in that graph, though you might expect that a majority of the “instant messaging” communication is via social networks.
  • Email is very popular too but seems to be used less frequently.

We will need to ensure members have control of how and when they get contacted as we don’t want to flood inboxes or turn people off with a barrage of texts. Instead, I think we want to try and establish and nurture personal connections with – and between – members.

For example, rather than a bulk text from a generic number, wouldn’t it be great if we could establish a texting version of phone trees (OL’SKOOL!) so every member got the information from an activist or contact they had personally met at some point?

“Sticking together gives you hope that things can be different”

Focus E15 mothers are a group of young mothers who were evicted from a hostel they lived in. The hostel was a place of shelter for women facing homelessness and domestic violence. Their response to this eviction and the accompanying attempts by social service to disperse them across the country was to organise.

What strikes me about the actions of these brave women and their supporters, is that organising and campaigning of this nature is also an exercise in community building. And what better way to (re-)build communities than though campaigning on housing?

Finding the confidence to stand up for yourself and those around you is not easy but when you do you give others the confidence to do the same. Solidarity and action can be infectious and can strengthen a community to the point where it can begin to find it’s own solution to problems as well as become impossible for those with the power to ignore.