Here’s the text of a talk Mick gave at the anarchist book fair last Saturday. We’ve been interested in forms of self-organising for quite a while now, particularly thinking about the role of concrete practices in generating material social relations in order to foster social change. Here we look at some of these issues in the context of the Dublin Tenants Association.
- What is the Dublin Tenants Association
The Dublin Tenants Association was set up just over a year ago. Our aim is to be a space where tenants can come together to fight for our rights. We set it up because we could see that the private rental sector was the epicentre of the housing crisis and many of us and our friends were getting rent increases and evictions notices.
From the beginning we didn’t set out to be a campaign group in the conventional sense. Instead we wanted to be about tenants coming together to fight for our rights in an everyday sense and in terms of the big picture issue. So it’s about providing collective support with immediate housing issues, such as rent increases, poor standard accommodation etc., but also about building on our successes in those everyday battles to empower ourselves and eventually be able to change government policy and the structures which prevent tenants from having the right to housing.
2. Relationship at the core of our politics
There are lots of things I could say about the DTA that I think would be relevant to this discussion, but I only have ten minutes so I’m going to focus on one thing which I think is key. That is how we relate to tenants who get in touch with our association, for example because they have a housing problem. The nature of that relationship I think is key to the type of organising that we do, or at least try to do.
When people get in touch with us we don’t relate to them in what you might call a traditional ‘activist’ fashion. We’re not trying to convince people of a particular set of ideas or analysis. We’re not trying recruit people by getting them to adopt a set of ideas.
We’re more about working with them in relation to the issues they think are the most important for them right now. But at the same time, we’re also not about simply giving tenants information and advice and then that’s the end of it. It’s not just a form of service provision. And the reason it’s not is because we do want the tenant to change, and we want them to change radically.
We want them to change by participating in and experiencing collective empowerment, by which I mean that by working together we can enhance are capacity to shape our lives in an everyday sense and in a big picture sense.
But it’s very, very important to underline that just as we want the tenants who get in touch with us to be in some sense transformed by their experience with us, we also want to transform ourselves. Because we are just as fucked and just as powerless as the tenants who come to us. So it’s a two way street.
So to clarify – there are two key aspects two this type of organising:
- It’s about collective empowerment in a real, material and tangible sense not just adopting a set of ideas bout neoliberalism or capitalism or whatever.
- And secondly that process of empowerment is reciporical and mutual.
So our role as organisers, then, is about creating a space and a set of processes which make that collective empowerment possible
3. How do we do case work: two models
What does this mean in practice? Let me give you an example of the kind of stuff we’ve tried out as part of all this.
We started off with a very collective model. So the tenant comes to our meeting and explains their situation. We then collectively brainstorm the problem and think what the best strategy is. Then the tenant goes off with someone from the DTA who helps them implement the strategy they have decided to go with. The next week the tenant comes back to report on progress etc.
This strength of this approach is that any tenant who came had to take part in our collective meeting and share their story with the whole group and that devising a strategy around their problem was something we did collectively.
The limitations of this was that it was daunting for tenants and possibly a bit confusing. Having several people suggesting ways to approach their issue didn’t really work. The tenants wanted clear and precise information and they wanted issues clarified. Using this model we didn’t manage to get many tenants who wanted to take their case further, for example to the PRTB.
So we decided our approach was a bit too focused on our ideas of collective empowerment and not enough on the tenants needs and experience. So we decided to move to a different model. Under this model any tenant who contacts has a kind of a ‘case worker’ form the DTA who would work with them on a one-to-one basis. We meet tenants outside the meeting, in a cafe or whatever, and we work with them one on one. This was really effective for the tenant – we usually resolved their issues pretty quick, we brought a good few cases to the PRTB and won them all.
The strength of this model was that it was effective and efficient. These are really, really important things. But there was very little collective empowerment. The tenant didn’t get to meet the rest of the gang, they didn’t have much opportunity to contribute to our association etc.
So we’re now moving on to a third model we’re gonna try out. And to find out about that you’ll have to come along to our next meeting and get involved!
But the point I want to make is that this is what self-organising is all about. It’s about creating a set of practical processes that foster collective empowerment in relation to the things that effect our lives. And it is about a relationship of reciprocity and of mutual respect. And it is about, very importantly, experimenting with different approaches.