In September, GMTU members attended a weekend of workshops, debate and celebration of achievements of housing unions across the UK and Ireland hosted by London Renters Union (LRU).
Friday was movie night. We watched the GMTU film Block To Block, then we watched a film made by a small number of LRU members who were having housing action problems. The filmmaker Josh taught them how to make their own films, and each section of the film depicted a different member with a different housing issue. It explored a variety of backgrounds and topics, including kids in insecure housing; race and housing; housing for people coming out of prison and dysfunctional housing associations.
On Saturday we went on an East London walking tour around the former Old Nichol and Boundary Estate. It was one of the most densely populated and impoverished places in London in the Victorian Era. The guide spoke about the unjustified discrimination that the area and its residents felt from the government, reporters and even scientists of the time, even though they were a skilled populous and not nearly as deviant and disrespectful as the rest of London tried to make out. We also learned how the dense slums were replaced by council housing in the early 1900's. It was incredible to see the standard that was once held for council housing - beautiful, large red-brick homes designed to encourage community (and disappointing to realise that after 'right-to-buy', these are now all privately owned).
We then had an engaging and open discussion on race and housing with a broad range of opinions discussed. One passionate point was made that if there is an issue in your community you should feel empowered to just go for it and try your best to resolve it. We also spoke about how members of that community should be well represented in the tenants unions of that area for the most effective work. A key point on which we concluded, was that sometimes a tenants' union branch doesn't necessarily reflect the diversity of its local community, it is essential to listen and amplify others' voices to build trust and expand to union to be a more accurate reflection of the area. We also reflected on the human importance of community organising, and a potentially spiritual element to supporting each other through difficult times.
We ended Saturday with a party and BBQ. It was nice to bring the delegates together in an informal way and get to know each other. This ended with coloured flares matching the different unions, and then a firework display.
Sunday was a very big day with lots of learning. We first had a workshop on trans liberation and housing and our particular workshop was a colourful one. We used cardboard, paint and other props to construct the world we want to see, building into our world lots of safe LGBTQ+ spaces, making lots of room for neurodiverse people, green space and free, accessible and green transport.
We then had a workshop on disability and accessibility in housing. There was much discussion about the different gradings of accessibility and how the majority of the UK's infrastructure is pitifully equipped for people of varying accessibility needs. We spoke about how a lot of people don't realise that accessibility isn't just physical and outlined some of the invisible disabilities that need to be considered in disability justice. We discussed how the highest level of accessibility needs to be baked into the foundation of our housing demands and how beneficial that would be for tenants' unions and housing action movements.
In another breakout room, an LRU member discussed her experience of having mental illness and her action against supported accommodation she had been discharged to. We focused on how we can best support people in our branches with varying disabilities - mental and physical. Key points included potentially setting up a group within the union that focuses on disability issues. Also, building greater knowledge of accessibility needs within a union and making it clear that when a dispute involves sensitive information, the member only needs to bring forward what they are comfortable with.
We ended the weekend on a captivating talk on the history of housing, with two special guest academics. This included lots of passionate input from the Ireland, Scotland, Manchester and London delegates. We spoke about the need for balancing theory and study with physical action and community involvement. We discussed what should be the next steps for activists and tenants' unions considering that Labour are no longer a reliable place for progressive politics.
Overall, it was an information packed weekend. It's always invigorating to see the diverse range of incredible people that are fighting not just for housing action but for trans liberation, race and housing, disability justice and other movements. Additionally, it is inspiring to hear about others' successful actions and campaigns. Housing affects us all and the topic bridges the various struggles stretching across the whole of society.