By Iswed Tiggjan
Two things of note have occurred since my article in April discussing the South East QLD rental crisis and the need for a tenant union to fight back. The first is the continued onslaught of the crisis itself, with rents continuing to skyrocket across both South East QLD and the state’s regional areas. Optimistic estimates from the real estate sector are predicting this crisis to continue for at least 3 more years, as investors catch up with demand. As anarchists we know that this housing crisis has been ongoing for years now, and that no amount of investors will halt it, as it is the investors control of housing itself which is at the root of the issue.
As long as the working class lacks access to and communal control of their own sustainable housing the crisis will remain, sometimes at a low point and at other times surging upwards. As long as a landlord class remains, homelessness will continue, renters will be exploited and housing will remain precarious. These simple facts cannot be legislated or reformed away, only the destruction of capitalism can resolve them. But when it comes to housing the situation is not all or nothing.
We shouldn’t thumb our noses at reforms in the realm of housing simply because they fall short of revolution. The important point is how those reforms are won. History has shown us that any reforms that come from above will quickly be taken away, with little gained in relation to the power of the working class. On the flip side, when the working class conquers reforms from below they are infinitely more difficult to strip away and the workers themselves remain poised for ever greater conquests and improvements to their conditions. The labour movement has always been at its strongest when it has understood this fact, and it’s for this reason that it is so heartening to see the second point of note which has emerged – the formation of the South East Queensland Union of Renters, or SEQUR for short.
SEQUR’s statement of principles include commitments to direct democracy, membership participation and achieving change through direct struggle rather than a politician or a party. A tenants’ union founded on these principles – particularly that of direct struggle – will send shockwaves through landlords everywhere. Considering the glee with which landlords have benefited from the recent upsurge of the crisis, these shockwaves are well deserved. The formation of a tenants’ union is a clear statement that renters are no longer willing to be exploited and abused any longer. The working class deserves to live securely and with dignity, and the formation of SEQUR shows that they are willing to organise and fight to do so.
The growth of tenants’ organisations will only become more important over the coming years, as the recently announced Brisbane 2032 Olympics come closer, and low-income tenants begin to be attacked and removed in order to facilitate the image of Meanjin/Brisbane that whatever state government in power will want to convey. Events like the Olympics may be a boon for capitalists, but they are death to the communities in the areas affected. If SEQUR can act as a vehicle for the organisation of the communities in these areas and organisation and power can begin to be built now, it may be possible to stave off the worst impacts of these events. The important thing is not waiting until it is too late to act and that the lessons of the past are looked at and learnt from.
There are two particular lessons that SEQUR may benefit from reflecting on. Firstly, the catastrophic effect that the labour movement’s connection to the ALP has had on the movement’s capacity to struggle and build worker’s power, and secondly, the transformation of Queensland’s last tenant union into little more than an NGO through its acceptance of state funding. Looking at these two experiences together shows us how vital it is for unions (or any working class organisations) to maintain their independence from the state, or those parties that intend to achieve change through the state. Without this autonomy working class institutions will always be absorbed into these class collaborationist structures, losing their fighting vitality and eventually become nothing more than service provision, or a vehicle for electioneering and vote winning.
But let’s not dwell too much on the mistakes of the past or the great struggles ahead, and instead celebrate the birth of a new organisation of class struggle. One that is sorely needed not just in South East QLD but throughout the state and Australia as a whole. We would call on all renters and house owners that wish to struggle in solidarity to join SEQUR today and take an active part in the life of the union. The struggles ahead are great and it’s only through the mass participation of its members that a union can truly become strong.
Let landlords everywhere tremble at the birth of SEQUR!!