Social collectivization instead of remunicipalization

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akai
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Jun 3 2018 06:28
Social collectivization instead of remunicipalization

There is no doubt that the privatization of many public services has brought poorer working conditions, casualization of labor and higher costs for people using them. But that certainly is not to be uncritical about how these services are sometimes run when they are state-run or municipal. In Eastern Europe there were many instances of crony capitalism related to the running of enterprises and their eventual privatization. Because the state ran services very poorly, and because of the ideology of neoliberalism, in some places, like Poland, there was a belief that privatization would improve all services which people believed could not be run well and with any accountability in the public sector.

One area where we have managed, after many years, to significantly turn public opinion is with housing. The destruction of public housing was planned and it is still being eroded by replacement programs such as public-private partnerships with developers and legislation to limit the provision of cheap housing. However, the further privatization of many public buildings has been halted and legislation to end it was promised. This legislation may be scrapped, but this will depend on our ability or inability to escalate the struggle.

After years of gathering evidence about illegal privatization, several buildings were ordered to be remunicipalized. For the tenants who had been subjected to horrendous rents, harrassment and eviction, this news was cause for celebration, because at least the rent would be much cheaper. However, the tenants realized that going back to being under the city which had privatized them and which itself violates tenants' rights and seeks to get rid of them is no long-term solution. As a response to this remunicipalization, we know people facing eviction or resettlement from the city. Damages which were awarded to these tenants for years of paying higher rent are being questioned by the city, which doesn't want to pay it.

Life as a municipal tenant is not great and it has been a struggle to get any pro-tenants practices adopted.

The most typical reaction to this on the part of tenants is the desire to take over ownership of these properties themselves, because they think that at least they won't screw themselves. This is of course controversial as some see this as further privatization of public housing, reducing the number of units that could be eventually rotated and used for the next generation. However, uncritical supporters of the state and public ownership usually do not see the inherent problems of this and,at best, just ask for more effective management. (Usually by their prospective politicians and bureaucrats.)

In stark contrast to this, although we consider remunicipalization as a good step away from privatization, for the last decade we have been trying to promote collectivization and self-management as alternatives .Unfortunately, we are very far away from this in a society with little experience of this. However, we needn't lose sight of this and can always push for alternative housing projects. While some privatizers push to legally reclaim the property that has been ordered to be remunicipalized, with great resistance by the city, we have forced the city to at least take over some responsibilities and have chased away the privatizers a few times. What is needed is more militant resistance and occupation, but the number of people ready for this is insufficient for the scale.

Our aspirations can only ever be achieved if we articulate them and try to take steps to implement small-scale versions of what we are talking about. Defeatism is the attitude that our ideas will never be accepted or implemented in the here-and-now, thus all we can aspire to is social democratic reform, or putting a human face of rotting capitalism.

(Short text for reference: http://zsp.net.pl/when-property-literally-theft)

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Cooked
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Jun 3 2018 07:12
Quote:
In stark contrast to this, although we consider remunicipalization as a good step away from privatization, for the last decade we have been trying to promote collectivization and self-management as alternatives .Unfortunately, we are very far away from this in a society with little experience of this. However, we needn't lose sight of this and can always push for alternative housing projects

Do you have any thoughts what this might look like? In sweden the main form of multi family housing after municipal rent is "bostadsrätt" . This is a form where the building is owned collectively by the tenants and the individual tenant pays a yearly fee for the right to be housed in the building. This right can then be sold.

A huge amount of municipal housing has been converted into this form over the last 15 years. Despite perhaps sounding like a good form of management it has been a driver of speculation and massive increases in housing cost. Sweden now has a housing bubble that has frightened even the bourgeoise economists. The wikipedia page on bostadsrätt is not available in english. Here's the german page https://de.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bostadsr%C3%A4tt

It would be really interesting to hear thoughts about alternative ways of management short of revolution.

akai
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Joined: 29-09-06
Jun 3 2018 09:49

There are many thoughts. First, it has to be said that there were different programs implemented throughout E.Europe after the collapse of the system where the form of ownership changed. This related to both industry and housing. In Poland they thought of a type of worker ownership for businesses, although this was a real trojan horse. (Our union criticized what actually happened in some bus companies where workers took on debts and wound up with pseudo-self-managed capitalism and austerity measures under non-accountable bosses who acquired more and more shares.)

In housing, some of the public housing stock was sold at a discount years back and the houses became managed in cooperatives. However, this usually excluded some tenants who could not afford (or were hindered in some way), which meant that a large number of them remained municipal tenants. There was also similar moves to make cooperatives in some houses owned by employers - usually large state enterprises.

Many people made money off this since once this housing was privatized, people who owned it could re-sell it. So it did nothing to help public housing, although some tenants who became owners made a fortune.

There are many ways of transferring ownership to collectives of tenants, but there are many issues surrounding this. The first is what happened with some legalized squats in NYC years back - that people were owners and sold their flats. Obviously, any sort of collectively run housing would be better off without the right to sell - in other words, the right to actually inhabit and nothing more. It is the same with collective business. Once the right to sell shares or sell rights is introduced, it is an instrument to make money. Perhaps an exception is if there had to be a large capital investment and the user did not recover the value of this because of living a short time.

But all of this is problematic and not feasible in our situation, because the people we defend do not have capital. Since the administration took money all the time but did not repair the houses, many of them are in drastic need of investment - for example, many have no heat or no bathrooms.

In the past, people knew these flats were cheap and treated them as something they had a permanent right to. This means that people did things like installed their own toilets and made repairs. This was some cost offset by the generally low rent. Since the privatization has begun, people feel they can be moved or evicted, so they don't want to spend this money. So one idea tenants often have is just to transfer administration over to them and, instead of paying rent, they would pay to maintain and repair the building. This is actually a good idea since the administration is corrupt and costs a lot more money than it should. When we analyze costs, it is really an unreasonable sum. So one idea would be that these buildings are still publically owned, but administered by the tenants themselves. If necessary, with co-financing from the public. And this is justified because the government just enacted a bill which would provide subsidies to private developers to build rental housing that will be with market rates.

Or these houses could be cooperatively owned, but without the right to sell and a guarantee that the units will always be used for low-income people.

The case is particularly compelling for some small buildings. We are fighting with the local government about them. They are buildings with less than 8 flats which they local government does not want to repair. Instead, they want to sell them to real estate developers. They claim that they would invest money then in building new housing, although this is bull since they do not say where, or do not even explain why they just don't sell some parcels of land to developers and use that money to repair the houses or build something new, which would avoid evictions. The tenants would prefer to take over the buildings and we support this. But in order for the tenants to be safe, really they either need some legal instrument or else a very militant group of people who will fight against the city evicting them and selling the building. Surely anti-evictions can be arranged, but it is another thing to prevent sales, maintain the buildings, etc.

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Cooked
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Jun 3 2018 17:02

Thanks for the reply. The housing issue is still huge here with an immense shortage. It's very interesting to know more about the systems and ideas in different countries. There seems to be quite a lot of variation. Sweden doesn't have social housing as the municipalities are required to provide the needed housing. They don't of course but are required.

The developers/construction companies lobby very hard and publish stuff in the papers weekly shaping the discourse. They rely on various tropes and fantasies where sweden is still like in the 70's (relatively social democratic) chipping away at various regulations with these false images of extreme regulations and 'socialist' system. Pretending other countries are a free market utopia when in fact the swedish system has a fair few advantages for them.

Then we have the fact that a fair amount of working class people have made it a few steps up the housing ladder and thus stand to loose a lot if a crash happens. Here the left discourse is geared exclusively at having more municipal for rent housing and less bostadsrätter. The municipal housing functions relatively well despite being forced by EU regulations to act as market players without a social role. The problem is that the housing queue is ridiculous. Last year there were 556 000 people in the Stockholms bostadskö, and 19 available flats... New builds are very, very expensive regardless of landlord. Municipal housing also involves rent extraction, profits and a landlord so it would be nice to come up with alternatives.

I find it a bit opaque to figure out how it works in other countries and it would be interesting to know more from other posters how their system is set up and what possibilities it offers. Perhaps there's already a website somewhere that does this with a radical perspective?