University rent strikes escalate

Submitted by AWL on 12 January, 2021 - 11:09
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Groups of students at around fifty unis are now withholding rent for halls of residence, or about to start doing so.

The advice to most students not to return to campus until mid-February at earliest has given the rent strike wave fresh impetus. What’s the point of paying for accommodation you can’t use for at least six weeks and possibly longer?

The movement is beginning to consolidate organisation, with meetings being held, reps elected and a national network.

The grievances, anxieties and consequently demands for undergraduates go beyond paying for accommodation that isn’t occupied.

They include: substandard accommodation, infestation, exorbitant rents, lack of clear advice and processes for international students, concerns over fair mitigation processes in assessments.

Students who are not participating (e.g. because they live in all-year-round accommodation) and staff should show our solidarity with letters and motions of support.

Zac Larkham from the Sheffield Hallam rent strike told Solidarity:

Students are angry, rightly so, about the way the government has let them down and the way that Sheffield Hallam has lied to them.

University management should at the very least be meeting with us and upholding their end of the bargain to provide safe and clean accommodation which they are not. They are complicit in the problems at the halls. The University has decided that the accommodation providers like Unite are the best people to provide us with housing and be responsible for students’ well being but they are not. Many of these companies are just there to profit of students and do the bare minimum.

At the start of the rent strike, me and a few other people put our heads together to come up with our demands. We started with looking at the other university rent strikes and their demands. Now we have a much more democratic process and the demands are more in tune with what other strikers want.

We’ve been talking to the student union. They say they are supportive but they are not fully on board with all our demands. We need to persuade them to be on the students’ side and help us lobby the university.

I’ve learned a lot during the campaign – I’ve never organised anything like this before. I’ve massively expanded my knowledge of digital campaigning, about legalities around rent strikes and really learnt a lot about encouraging others to join strikes and create solidarity between students and staff. I’ve also had my eyes opened to how bad some students, particularly female students, have it in halls and on campus. Many students have a lot to complain about.

The strike is going well so far. On New Year’s eve we had about 270-odd people signed up and then in the week since that we’ve doubled that number. We’re meeting with trade unions and Olivia Blake MP soon. It’s also been helpful getting in touch with Sheffield Uni rent strike; we’ve been able to help each other and share information. Right now we’re working to get the university management into the room with us and hear what we have to say.

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