Sunday, 18 September 2016

Student Rent Strikes - Revisiting the political power of an un-mortgaged society?

Inspecting the looming world of financialised housing in 1959, Aneurin Bevan gave a speech to the Labour Party conference:
I have enough faith in my fellow creatures in Great Britain to believe that when they have got over the delirium of the television, when they realize that their new homes that they have been put into are mortgaged to the hilt, when they realize that the moneylender has been elevated to the highest position in the land, when they realize that the refinements for which they should look are not there, that it is a vulgar society of which no decent person could be proud, when they realize all those things, when the years go by and they see the challenge of modern society not being met by the Tories who can consolidate their political powers only on the basis of national mediocrity, who are unable to exploit the resources of their scientists because they are prevented by the greed of their capitalism from doing so, when they realize that the flower of our youth goes abroad today because they are not being given opportunities of using their skill and their knowledge properly at home, when they realize that all the tides of history are flowing in our direction, that we are not beaten, that we represent the future: then, when we say it and mean it, then we shall lead our people to where they deserve to be led!
One of the most interesting things about the property boom and the mortgage crisis is that few young people can afford to take a sufficient mortgage to buy a house. Of course, this deprives the money-lenders the opportunity to control the young and tie them into financial servitude for 25 years or more. Although for the young who believe they deserve the same standard of living as their parents (but can't get it), this may seem terrible, it also presents provides the young with political power - which they have yet to realise.

The atomised mortgaged property-owning individual was (is) politically disenfranchised not only through the mortgage itself, but also through their impaired ability to organise themselves into a political force. The collapse of heavy industry, and the unions which were once so powerful meant that there was no single target to strike collectively to hold elites to account.

So heavy industry has gone. Massed labour has gone.... to be replaced with mass university education. The student rent-strike (see is exactly the same kind of phenomenon as the organisation of mass political power in the past. Rent hurts students on a day-to-day basis. It means they can't eat properly or go out in the evening. I think the rent strike is likely to succeed - in London, it has already started to show results ( Of course, Universities may threaten legal action, etc. But against everybody? I doubt it - there are too many vested interests in the students being there - and Universities without students aren't Universities. The interesting thing is, if the rent strike is successful, what next? What, when students rediscover the power of self-organisation and political action, will be next?

What about a "fees strike"? This is more difficult. Fees are paid through loans taken out by the student, directly to the University. The student never sees the money, and have no power to withhold it. All they can do is leave, which would also mean not getting their qualifications. I'm not entirely sure that mass exodus as a political threat is completely out of the question (who knows - particularly with dwindling prospects for graduates, and the fact that a student who's studied for a year knows that the rest is more of the same), but the question over rent will raise a lot of questions not just about student finance, but social power.

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