Organisation, Ecology, Solidarity: Get On It
Our vision of this movement’s structure is more that of an ‘ecology’: we, the ‘national working group’, aren’t operating in control of local groups. We’re here to help: give out resources and wisdom, connect activists with each other, boost morale, and generally pass on the Rent Strike ‘DNA’ (what we fight for, why, how we present ourselves and organise, etc.)—loosely speaking, our identity. This section is an attempt to present the most efficient kinds of organisational structures local groups have collected with time.
Organising locally on campuses is a key part of Cut the Rent. ‘Locally’ means not only that local groups are more or less autonomous from a central command group; it also means that local groups themselves have several ‘branches’ within each campus (in halls, corridors etc.).
A good thing to do is to first set up your local campus-wide group, and then try to get hall-specific groups going, if possible with 1–2 contact freshers in each hall that can canvass regularly and report things to the campus-wide group.
Once you have your campus group, you can go to halls, knock on people’s doors, talk and listen to them (see our chapter on canvassing for more info). See who’s really keen to get things into their own hands. Before you doorknock though make sure you have a hall meeting lined-up to follow up the door-knocking and get those halls groups going!
A diagram of national and local networks would look a bit like this:
There are several advantages to this structure. Firstly, students have lots of occasions to meet and organise in smaller groups. Meeting places would be close to their rooms and they’re more likely to know people at meetings, encouraging more people to be involved, and feel involved, because smaller groups mean people get to speak and throw in their own ideas. A week could be organised thus:
Monday: general CTR meeting
Wednesday: Hall A CTR meeting
Friday: Hall B CTR meeting
Localised meetings also means you get informal networks going: people might not come to meetings, but they will talk about rent strikes with their mates, at the pub, etc. Those informal networks are sometimes even more effective than meetings (because usually few people go to them).
It’s easier to share resources and wisdom between activists without a centralised authority coming into local campuses and taking over, which is, in our experience, a very inefficient way to do things. This way loads more people can be inspired to participate in their groups and become people that share wisdom (instead of just receiving it), and the workload of travelling, sharing and training is spread out (as opposed to thrown onto a few burnt out individuals in a centralised structure).
A localised form of ecology also means the possibility of solidarity and care networks between groups. Neoliberal universities have atomised and burdened students, making it much harder to organise for change (see our chapter on care for more info). Informal networks and small, hall-level groups can help rebuild these communities, thus hopefully transforming for the better some key aspects of university life, whilst making our campaigns more sustainable as more students can afford to engage in them.
Concrete examples of what your solidarity network could do:
Study collectives: We all miss lectures and seminars, and then have to try and find someone’s notes after. Why not get rent strikers to share notes and lecture recordings, or help proofread each others’ work? Maybe share books and PDFs, collections of past essays, prep for exams, have discussion groups, divvy up boring articles to read or even invite a friendly academic to talk.
Print co-op: University printing can be stupidly expensive. Why not get 10 people to contribute £4 each to buy a printer together. Then notes and essays will get printed for no more than the cost of paper and ink! And if you need to get a ton of leaflets, you’re already set up.
Rent Strike Cafe: it’s hard to find the time, money or energy to eat properly sometimes. It’s cheaper to buy food for lots of people, it ensures people spend time with each other collectively and saves time on cooking and chopping. Ready meals and takeaways are about splitting us up—big curry pots and cake can be a chance to make new friends and plan some trouble.
Support each other at work: Landlords are shit—and so are bosses. Most of the time when they underpay us or treat us like shit, there’s little we can do alone. Don’t be afraid to bring problems you face at work to the strike group/flat group as this type of organisation is where our strength can lie—if there’s an action or a picket work out how to support it. Syndicalists have done this for decades, and it works.
Also: most problems you experience as a student aren’t unique. Chances are, other rent strikers feel the same as you. If you work together, the solutions usually aren’t too hard to find.
Solidarity networks could form the basis of democratic organisation at a hall to hall level, so that the rent strike can move beyond passive participation from the strikers (withholding rent) to creating avenues that address other issues in students’ lives. They can open ways that bring us together in much more than our opposition to high rents.