By Daisy Avril Rhei, Socialist Alternative Leicester
As the weight of the cost of living crisis worsens, more people are struggling to find affordable housing. Novara Media interviewed property owners attending the National Landlord Investment Show in London recently, causing a great stir online. The reporter, Rivkah Brown, spoke with landlords outside the event. Brown pressed them about why they increase rent prices during the cost of living crisis. Their detached responses are all the more revolting when we consider the current dire material conditions we are up against.
Under capitalism, housing is a commodity. Capitalists buy up properties (taking them into the private sector) and use tenant’s wages to pay the mortgage. One landlord admitted that he had no outgoings, so did not need to increase the rent. Every penny this landlord takes from tenants is direct profit! When housing is run for profit, there is no consideration for the real needs of people.
Novara Media’s report shines an interesting light onto this portion of the capitalist class. It is interesting (and shocking) to hear their reasoning for maintaining the system. The brazen beliefs of the capitalist class stand in stark opposition to the struggling voices of the disorganised working class. Novara Media’s video is an excellent point of friction, opening up a dynamic space to address why we must transform the housing market.
Economic crises in our homes and our workplaces
We are in a housing crisis. The majority of the working class rent their homes, many of which are unsafe to live in. Almost one million homes are affected by damp and mould in England alone in 2021/2, according to the English Housing Survey. There is a distinct mood of frustration amongst us, who struggle to afford our rent each month.
Rents are at record highs, whilst wage growth is at an average decrease of 3% in 2022 (according to a TUC report). Pay has been suppressed for over a decade. Meanwhile, energy companies raked in record-breaking profits of £1.7 billion so far this year. Bosses squeeze the workers to maintain the capitalist system. The capitalist class oppresses us, to prevent the working class from organising the collective momentum necessary to have more control of our lives and communities.
When capitalists are honest, their truth is shocking to many. Australian property tycoon Tim Gurner (that guy who told young people to stop eating avocado toast, once again) went viral, calling for unemployment rates to rise “up to 50%… to see pain in the economy”; this is abstract and cruel. Capitalists like Gurner purposefully work to make life hard for working-class people, to line their own pockets. They possess the majority of the planet’s resources, maintaining this destructive system. The capitalist class knows nothing about real people’s needs.
At the Australian Financial Review Property Summit, Gurner bemoaned the “systematic change” in workers’ consciousness. We celebrate and encourage this global shift in the working class’ approach to labour and struggle. Gurner advised bosses to “lay people off” in order “to kill this attitude” of working class strength.
Bosses will double down on workers who demand and deserve better. The working class need to organise and prepare themselves for these kinds of attacks. International Socialist Alternative works to create a mass movement of workers and young people that achieves this.
Social housing is possible
Back in the mid 20th Century, the UK government, through pressure from the working class, built masses of post-war social housing. Millions of people had access to affordable homes. Thatcher reversed this in the 80s, introducing the ‘Right to Buy’ scheme, allowing people to buy their council house. This is one of the reasons for the massive shortages of council housing that we deal with today
The time is ripe for a transformation of housing in this country. Affordable social housing is possible, but we cannot go backwards – properties must be constructed to a higher standard than the council housing built previously. Social housing must be sustainably built, with green technology to ensure an ecologically sustainable transformation of the economy.
Building a socialist movement for renter’s control Novara Media’s Rivkah Brown also spoke with activists who protested outside the location of the National Landlord Investment Show. They were demanding that the government bring in more protections for renters. Socialist Alternative supports all measures to support the rights of workers and renters. In the US, Sweden and elsewhere, International Socialist Alternative has led struggles of working people for rent controls. Housing should be a human right, not a commodity. There are so many houses already but they sit empty and derelict, scooped up by capitalists for personal investment. These should be taken into democratic public ownership, alongside a mass programme of green council housing to put an end to the housing crisis for good.
At the University of Manchester (UoM), 650 students took a rent strike against extortionate costs and mediocre standards. Students wanted to negotiate new terms with UoM. Instead, the university spent £40,000 to have the students forcibly removed. UoM has the money to meet the student’s demands, but chose instead to ignore their requests and brutally mistreat them. The student’s brave action is an inspiration to other renters, who can also fight back and try to win.
Landlords are symptomatic of capitalism; Bosses oppress workers, exploiting our labour to make their millions. Landlords then suck up the majority of worker’s meagre wages. We are squeezed at both ends. Wages are held down, while rent, food costs and energy bills increase. We are exhausted, but we must fight back. Housing should be affordable, and available to everyone who needs it.