Photo: UCL Cut the Rent

This Monday, students at UCL escalated their rent campaign and declared an indefinite rent strike. 150 students in UCL halls are withholding what amounts to £250,000 from their university until their central demand, a 40% cut in rent, is met. This latest rent strike follows another successful one last year when UCL students won £400,000 in compensation from the university.

Average rent for UCL halls has risen by 56% since 2009, and the university makes a 45% profit from them. The impact of these rents is that students are effectively priced out of studying in London. In the words of one of the strikers, Nyima Murry,

‘Many people I know are put off moving to London because they can’t afford to study here. I’m striking so that future students have the opportunity to study at UCL on academic merit not financial background. The housing situation in London has to be made affordable: Landlords have refused to cut the rent, so we have no option but to do it ourselves. Hopefully, we can inspire others to do the same.’

If students are unable to afford to live where they study, this effectively closes off a great number of options for where they can study if at all. The more extortionate the rents, the more higher education becomes a playground for the wealthy. Rather than universities primarily being sites for learning and research, they become places for enormous amounts of money to be made by university managements and over-paid vice-chancellors.

The last two sentences of what Nyima Murry said are perhaps the most important of them. It’s not just students in London who are struggling to pay for overpriced housing, and certainly not students in general. The austerity regime, propelled by the economic demands of capitalism itself, is throwing more and more people into poverty and misery. Housing is a basic human need and people have the right to it. This right is rapidly being curtailed, and the time to fight back is now.

Here are five ways you can support the UCL rent strike and campaign where you are

1.) Connect with the UCL Cut the Rent campaign on Facebook and Twitter (@rentcutUCL)

Liking and sharing the Facebook page and its posts, as well as following and retweeting them on Twitter, are ways to get the word out about the rent strike to build wider support for it and in turn keep pressure on UCL management. The rent strike itself will cause direct economic damage to university management, but a great deal of indirect damage can be done too by publicity work. If the campaign needs any particular type of external support, it’s pretty certain it’ll be posted about on the campaign’s social media. Furthermore, publicising the campaign in this way uses its success last year to demonstrate that victory against management over rents is possible.

2.) Contact the campaign directly

If you have any skills, contacts or other resources to support the rent strike, or want to help out but are unsure how, a good place to start is to contact the rent campaign on its Facebook or Twitter directly to chat to one of the organisers. They’ll be able to point you in the right direction, and would appreciate you reaching out to them!

3.) Sign the open letter

The campaign is currently working on a yet to be published open letter. If you’re connected to any particular groups or organisations which would be interested in supporting the rent strike more formally, contacting the campaign about the open letter to take a look at the draft and signing it is a good call. As well as having a social media presence, they can be emailed at uclcuttherent@gmail.com

4.) Start your own housing campaign or tenants union

Student or not, if you have a crappy landlord then do whatever you can to organise against them. Meet your neighbours and hold meetings to get things going, and again the UCL rent campaign would be worth contacting too to get support and advice where you need it. Every campaign that organises tenants together for better and more affordable housing is strengthened by the existence of every other campaign doing the same. This is multiplied by every act of solidarity between those campaigns.

While this can be daunting, especially for anyone trying to pull together a housing campaign or tenants union who’s done nothing like that before. That shouldn’t put you off though. Ultimately, these sorts of actions are taken by you and people around you to defend yourselves from the exploitation of landlords. The form, structure and tactical objectives of your work can and should be decided by yourselves. As long as you know what – in very basic terms – you want to achieve, all you need is the determination to do it.

5.) Mutual Aid

Mutual aid is a great way to build a sense of community and solidarity which makes it much harder to be screwed over by landlords. At its simplest, mutual aid is a principle for working with other people that puts economic cooperation and equality first. Examples of this are helping your neighbour take their rubbish out, cooking them a meal and helping them clean their house.

By themselves, these actions don’t appear all that political or relevant to a housing campaign, let alone the UCL rent strike. However, these little acts build the interpersonal and very human relationships between people that make collective political action possible.

A major consequence of neoliberalism and capitalism more generally is the atomisation of people into neat, little, self-interested ‘consumer’ units. Resistance to this process is an immediate tactic that can be adopted, and can be very effective if – ironically – limited to any one individual’s actions. On a larger scale, going out of your way to help out the UCL rent strike draws on the same principles of actions as mutual aid in general.

About Carlus Hudson

Carlus is an MA history graduate from the University of Exeter and politically active in Devon.