Solidarity interviewed David Dahlborn, the Halls Accommodation Officer at UCL Student’s Union who has been very influential in organising the rent strike in two of the university halls.
Solidarity: How did the idea of a rent strike first come about at UCL?
DD: It’s been an idea that has sort of existed for a while. Throughout the year there has been a campaign by students to lower the rent at UCL halls, which are some of the most expensive in the country and that have been going up in price (above-inflation year on year). We talked about the idea of rent strike action for a long and time and when problems started springing up at Hawkridge and Campbell Houses, we decided it wouldn’t be hard to convince them of what action to take.
S: When and how did the two rent strikes start?
DD: The rent strike started on the 8th of May (simultaneously) at Hawkridge and Campbell Houses. This was the deadline for outstanding rent to be paid by the students and by this time we had convinced enough students to withhold their rent in protest and demand compensation for the unacceptable living conditions they’d had to endure previously. This included major building works that made it impossible to live let alone study in the rooms.
S: What concessions have you won?
DD: We have won several concessions so far. We stopped the university from carrying out construction during May [during exam period] for a whole month. We won £132 of compensation for hundreds of students. We made sure that there was alternative accommodation available to students suffering from poor living conditions. We made sure that conditions for students were made slightly less shit than they were originally!
S: What’s the current state of the rent strikes?
DD: Currently the campaign is teetering on a knife’s edge, I’d say. We’re doing everything we can to keep it going. We’re appealing to everyone who wants to see serious militant action taken against the London housing crisis to help us succeed. Primarily through submitting 3 very clear demands to UCL, to drop all victimisation of the striking students, to drop all disciplinary actions and to meet the full demands of compensation (a retroactive rent reduction) without any more mucking about from their side. We think we can succeed but we need help in doing this and that is what will decide the fate of this campaign.
S: What have you learnt from the experience, is there anything you might to differently next time around?
DD: There’s a lot we’ve learnt! I’ve learnt that a lot of hours need to be put into something like this, it takes a lot of work. You need to make sure that everybody at all times knows what’s going on so that we can respond quickly to the university. You need to know who you’re dealing with (which we’ve learnt as we’ve gone along).
I’ve learnt that a strike fund is needed in order to make people feel secure! Money was raised in the end in order to pay people’s late rent fees. This was important in making students feel confident enough to continue with the strike action.
In a way it’s been an important experience to learn from. We may have planned for things earlier here and there but overall it’s been important to gain experience from this action in order to go into the future with the confidence of knowing you’ve fought before and won things as well.
S: Any final points
DD: Solidarity is important. When some students are victimised it’s important that everyone stands with them.
This is why we are having a demonstration at UCL’s open day on Friday 3 July in order to demand that UCL treats its students with respect and accepts the demands of the students.