Sunday, October 25, 2015

Big landords terrorize tenants. Housing is a human right.

“No sooner is the exploitation of the laborer by the manufacturer, so far, at an end, that he receives his wages in cash, than he is set upon by the other portions of the bourgeoisie, the landlord, the shopkeeper, the pawnbroker, etc.” Marx 

by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

The word “terrorism” is thrown about a lot lately.  The US ruling class likes it as any individual or group of people that opposes their economic interests is called such and actually receives the official title of terrorist from the appropriate department of state. 

When I was young and the IRA was blowing up things here and there, we suddenly found ourselves absent any garbage cans at the railway stations as the IRA might put a bomb in them.  After some nasty attacks people were quite willing to forgo some civil rights in order to deal with terrorists. After all, they don’t fight fair. They have no recognizable insignia on their uniforms. Terrorists have no nation state with planes and ships and such, that’s why the American revolutionists were terrorists according to the established power at the time.

The problem with this word is the person or persons using it. To an employer, a strike is mass terrorism as it disrupts, or brings to a halt, the labor process which is the source of their profits. The problem with laws imposed as a means of countering terrorism, laws that undermine civil liberties, is that they apply to everyone. After 911 there were a number of strikes or labor disputes that took place here in the US and the bosses’ were not shy about tossing the T word around. As the saying goes, one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter.

So I use terrorism the way I want to use it.  I was once threatened with a lawsuit by a boss at work as I referred to his treatment of his subordinates at a meeting of the board that governed the water agency I worked for, as “workplace terrorism.”  He was not amused. When someone has the social power to deprive one of one’s income as retribution for speaking one’s mind or defending one’s rights--------that is a form of terrorism.  Constant harassment and bullying from someone with that power over another is terrorism. There’s another very common form of it, police terror.

We witness terrorism in all aspects of life on a daily basis. There is no place where it is more prevalent than in the landlord/tenant relationship.  I was involved in a direct action renter’s rights group for a while and we had numerous successes with a self-organizing strategy and direct action tactics.  But it was generally very hard to organize the tenants in a privately owned building because of terrorism.  The tenants were afraid of being thrown out on to the street. Many of them were single mothers, immigrants or seniors and were very vulnerable. At that time in Oakland CA, a landlord could evict a tenant without having to explain why. Another form of terrorism in these cases is sexual harassment.

With most of the multi occupancy buildings the landlords, (slumlords is what they are really no matter what) collect their money through an intermediary they call building management or property management companies.  I met with some tenants in my town this weekend as the landlords are whining about how difficult it is for them and they want to eliminate or raise, through various shenanigans, their ability to increase rents. We have no rent control here and as far as I know, there is nothing that bars a landlord for evicting someone without explaining why.

Rent boards, just like other municipal bodies are dominated by landlords and moneyed interests, and the elected officials that appealed to the electorate to vote for them on the basis that they would represent their interests, turn quickly in to agents for these moneyed interests implementing their policies.

One landlord I know of is a real estate speculator and investor. His company owns another 2500 units or so in Chicago and properties elsewhere, his only association with where I live is to use it as a source of profit.  These speculators that profit from a human being’s need for housing or what amounts to shelter, have above all economic power.  We often read of “big labor ”in reference to unions but different sections of the capitalist class all have organizations that lobby and bribe and threaten the body politic to ensure laws that defend their interests.  The East Bay Rental Housing Association, a relatively small example of this in the East Bay and represents members owning 18,500 units. It’s head at the moment I believe is a landlord in my town.

One of the largest private owners of rental housing in the Bay Area, Russell Flynn, has more than 3,600 rental properties and is trying to force some tenants out of a building he bought in a lucrative location in Oakland, a few miles north of here.  One of the tactics these terrorists use is to drive out existing tenants if there are caps on raises so that they can impose higher rents on new tenants. In this case tenants received a threatening letter announcing that, “The rental of said premises will be the sum of $3,870 per month instead of $1,080 per month as heretofore payable,” If receiving a letter like that is not terrorism I don’t know what is.    Read more here.

This sort of terrorism occurs on a daily basis and for the most part it’s legal.  If the average person challenges this moneyed power we are told that we can sue. But we all know that money wins in the courts. You can literally get away with rape and murder if you have the money.

The strongest defense in these situations is to self-organize and use direct action tactics to fight back. These slumlords live somewhere, their kids go to school somewhere, they attend church somewhere and they shop somewhere.  Sometimes they have other businesses that can be picketed. The point is to take the world they are imposing on you to them.  The more organized tenants are the less chance of retribution. The union leadership could take up this issue in our communities and use the power of organized labor to defend workers, union or not, who are exploited by ruthless landlords; but their narrow, pro business view of the world prevents this.

Through self organization and relying on our own strength we do not remain victims, relying on the courts or lawyers to defend our rights.  In 1999, a group of Section 8 tenants in Alameda California, with the help of the Campaign For Renter’s Rights, a direct action renters group, waged a successful struggle against evictions.  To read about this,  download a PDF of the action here.

But in the last analysis, housing is a human right. Human shelter should not be a commodity any more than food, health care, education or transportation.  A civilized society provides housing for its members, such an important social necessity should not be in the hands of private individuals whose sole purpose is to attain great wealth at the expense of others.  Affordable housing must be fought for and provided for those who need it. What these speculators do is not only artificially drive up the price of homes for those that actually want to live in them, they are detrimental to the community in that they deprive workers and middle class people of disposable income they would spend on other things which also hurts local community businesses. They force young adults to live with their parents. They do not live in the community that is the source of their wealth and they care less about it.

Housing is a human right and a civilized society should provide it.

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