ACORN compared to London Renters Union, etc

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klas batalo's picture
klas batalo
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Apr 7 2020 19:45
ACORN compared to London Renters Union, etc

Just curious from over the pond the differences between groups like ACORN UK and London Renters Union and/or other tenant unions? Any political differences? Any practical differences? Thoughts you have in general?

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Apr 7 2020 20:15

Not an expert, but my rough impression is - on the plus side, Acorn seems to function as more of a sort-of national organisation, while the like of LRU, as the name suggests, are more local. There's a few local groups, mainly Housing Action Southwark & Lambeth, who are sort of anarchist-y, and Brighton SolFed do tenants stuff as well, whereas Acorn seems more sort left-Labour-orbiting. Don't really know enough about either LRU or Living Rent up in Scotland to be able to comment. My general thoughts are similar to my thoughts on trade unions, I guess, and particularly the more militant end like RMT/CWU: they're not perfect anarcho or left communist spontaneous councils of struggle or anything and there's stuff you can criticise them for, but they seem a lot better than being left to confront the landlords or bosses as an isolated individual.
In relation to Corbynism, Acorn seems like the one actually useful thing that has come out of that period, and if more lefty-Labour-energy had been put into that rather than other things I think we'd be better off; similarly, in relation to anarchism, or the ultra-left or whatever, I think if we had more practical examples of useful projects on a similarly large scale, we'd be on a bit firmer ground when criticising them.

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klas batalo
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Apr 16 2020 17:11

My impression is ACORN was set up by some former IWWs who went left-Labour so that makes sense. Thank you for your thoughts!

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Jul 26 2020 17:20

If you're still interested, this might be a useful read: https://libcom.org/history/defending-our-homes-against-landlord-tyranny-...

Mair Waring
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Aug 3 2020 21:04

In SolFed we have generally had pretty bad experiences with Acorn, in multiple areas as well. Won't go in to too much detail about it, because I don't how public people want to be about it. Pretty sure we have had bad experiences since we are "competitors" in a fairly limited market for them (very few groups wanting to organise with tenants around).

Friends in the IWW reported a similar thing (both general feelings and something about acorn members near the beginning voting for some money to be given to them and then leaving / not getting involved again). Also spoken to people in other anarchist or communist groups (like afed), who have said similar things.

In my opinion Acorn are just like the IWGB or UVW of tenants organising. They are pretty new / small so are willing to take a few more risks to grow and haven't become quite so fossilised by bureaucracy yet, but at the end of the day just like the "base unions", they are headed quite clearly in one direction: a bureaucratic service. They are just like a standard unions really, but small.

Often they are far more willing to help you if you become a member. Here they are bragging about being giving out a letter template to non-members, for free! https://acorntheunion.org.uk/rent-reduction/ Even then they want all your details, for a fucking letter...

This is quite simply because they have a lot of paid organisers. There website usually has paid positions up to apply for. Obviously these people need salaries, so they need members. And while they might opportunistically use direct action to make gains, they aren't going to take any big risks, since big risks means big fines and smaller salaries. A lot of their activity as well is also useless stuff like calling on the government to change the law or signing people up to vote... They do a lot of door knocking which is nice, but it pretty clearly seems to get people to sign up (as personal insurance) for salaries. Obviously with paid bureaucrats you get different interests (and a hierarchy) as well as opportunists. They don't tend to pay a lot but it'd make a good stepping stone for fancier jobs in the unions, left journalism or the labour party (or an NGO or even a business). When Acorn want to expand somewhere they seem to pay an organiser to go there and promote the union, which sort of tells you it all: they are a business model.

There is defo nothing revolutionary or anarchist about them, in Bristol (their centre so to speak), the council literally sent their details out to the public at the start of the pandemic.

There is also some pretty dodgy stuff with acorn and unionisation. In America Acorn's leader for a while sacked a bunch of workers in their bureaucracy for joining the IWW (so essentially union busting). When they started here they said they had nothing to do with that guy. However, in January, at Bristol, they invited him to come and speak! https://www.facebook.com/events/2795314383824941/?acontext=%7B%22source%...[%7B%22surface%22%3A%22page%22%2C%22mechanism%22%3A%22main_list%22%2C%22extra_data%22%3A%22%5C%22[]%5C%22%22%7D]%2C%22has_source%22%3Atrue%7D

In terms of alternatives, any SolFed local (not just Brighton) is probably willing to help with housing issues (and yes we are very small compared to acorn, as it most of the radical left compared to unions). There are local groups as outlined by people above as well (who I imagine don't have paid organisers). For students there is a national rent strike group. I'd imagine groups like IWW or this new Get Rooted group might also help you out if you asked them.

In general, while national groups are nice, the most useful thing while organising as tenants is to have your neighbours or fellow tenants on board (whether its to resist an eviction, picket an agency, have a rent strike, whatever). Not sure how paying pretty high fees really helps most people in this regard. In the States there seems to be a fair amount of action without an Acorn-like-group. Likewise in the past there have been some pretty impressive rent strikes in the UK (St. Pancras, Glasgow, Liverpool, Leeds etc.) and as far as I know they never really needed paid organisers. I would agree a national organisation (or just cooperation) may have helped these struggles, and helped it to have a lasting legacy, but I think Acorn already show a lot of issues and those will only get worse.

Personally i'd not work with Acorn (nor do i think they'd want me to), though i'd support any struggling tenants even if they are signed up with them (same as with any union). I would encourage people first to talk to their other tenants and get in contact with any local tenants unions/ solfed / similar groups if they want a hand.

Battlescarred
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Aug 4 2020 06:54

We're publishing in an in-depth article on ACORN in the next issue of the ANarchist Communist Group's magazine, which will address many of the above issues.

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Aug 5 2020 14:15
Mair Waring wrote:
In my opinion Acorn are just like the IWGB or UVW of tenants organising. They are pretty new / small so are willing to take a few more risks to grow and haven't become quite so fossilised by bureaucracy yet, but at the end of the day just like the "base unions", they are headed quite clearly in one direction: a bureaucratic service. They are just like a standard unions really, but small.

At the risk of going slightly off-topic, I'd be interested if you could expand a bit more on your views on the IWGB/UVW style base unions* - like, are there examples of them acting like bureaucratic service unions in the present, or do you just think they'll inevitably have to go down that road later on? Obv, feel free to ignore this question if answering it might undermine any existing campaigns or whatever, but I would be interested to see more analysis on that subject.

*if it even makes sense to conflate them, it might well be the case that even the IWGB and UVW are going in different directions.

Mair Waring wrote:
Often they are far more willing to help you if you become a member. Here they are bragging about being giving out a letter template to non-members, for free! https://acorntheunion.org.uk/rent-reduction/ Even then they want all your details, for a fucking letter...

I have to admit, I'm not entirely sure I have a problem with that. Like, for more or less as long as I can remember there's been the debate about solidarity network-type models and how you stop them from just turning into service/casework/charity stuff, and I was under the impression that asking people for an ongoing commitment is an important part of how you keep things on more of a mutual-aid-and-solidarity basis than a service/casework one. I mean, none of this stuff's simple, and it's all hard to enforce - I imagine even with ACORN there's no way they can stop people from joining up, asking for something, and then cancelling their direct debit as soon as it's all sorted if they really want to - but I'm not sure that "we want you to become a member and then we'll work with you" is necessarily worse than "we'll do this thing for you". No?

Battlescarred wrote:
We're publishing in an in-depth article on ACORN in the next issue of the ANarchist Communist Group's magazine, which will address many of the above issues.

Cool, will be interested to read that.

klas batalo's picture
klas batalo
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Aug 6 2020 18:30

i didn't realize ACORN USA and ACORN UK were related! WOW!

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Aug 7 2020 15:23

Yeah, I initially thought they were just unrelated groups that had the same name, it was quite a surprise when they invited him over. There's a (very short, two posts by Battlescarred and then a one-liner from a possible bot) thread on it here: http://libcom.org/forums/news/dubious-mr-rathke-acorn-08012020

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Sep 7 2020 21:00

Interesting-looking article from a member of HASL here: Critical support for renters unions

"It's a positive step for the left to take housing struggles seriously as a site of political activity. But is a union-style dues-paying-membership organisation an effective model in the current housing context?"

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Sep 17 2020 11:49

For anyone following this topic, and who enjoys, uh, a certain style of podcasts, the very irregular UK class struggle/organising podcast The Slowdown just did an episode where the hosts, who are both involved in London Renters' Union, interview two people from ACORN: https://theslowdownpod.podbean.com/e/the-slow-down-lockdown-part-2-housi...
It does at least partially answer the question from the OP in that apparently ACORN see LRU and Living Rent in Scotland as sister orgs and advise people in London or Scotland to join those groups. Also gives a bit more background on the ACORN US connection. They did also do a LRU-focused episode earlier this year.
On top of all that, there is now also Tenants Union UK - I don't really know what differences they have with ACORN or LRU, but presumably they feel it must be worth existing as a separate org.

jc
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Sep 30 2020 07:20

Here's my 2 cents on ACORN.

First things first, ACORN is not a syndicalist union, and they don't pretend to be.They make no claim to direct democracy, and they do political lobbying for reforms - even registering voters. For all intents and purposes they are a mainstream union, organising tenants instead of workplaces.

So we should be careful how we criticise them and careful in our expectations. It's already clear where we stand on paid organisers and lobbying and representatives - and it's clear where these things lead. We should be shouting about what we have, about our millitancy, about revolutionary strategy, and how it beats fighting over reforms for an eternity. Making general criticism doesn't achieve much. If we write about an issue ACORN addresses, without mentioning them, and say how we want to deal with it as revolutionaries then I think that's more useful.

Would syndicalists expect Len McCluskey to organise a joint action with them? Not really. What we do is, either we join and look for other members who back direct action, or else we crack on organising our neighbourhoods in our own way and leave ACORN to it.

I think there is some frustration that we could of been doing this door-to-door community organising for years, if only we had more people. Then we see folk run off to join ACORN who never worked with us when we took action on housing, and that is frustrating. But that's just how it goes, at least they are doing something useful and helping people, if they ignored us it's their loss!

Imo, if ACORN set up where I live then I'd join, just like I dual card in Unite. Look for decent people I can work with, say my own opinion, and push millitant action when there's an opening.

That is despite falling out with one of their founding members. I told them how a law they were lobbying the council to use had hurt my area and me personally. They just called me a conspiracy theorist and said my friends were evicted for their own good!

Well, that's what reformism does to people. Let them play their games and we will keep doing what we do as well. What makes reformists shape up isn't criticism, they shape up when us millitants do a decent job - then the reformists play catch-up to avoid being shown up in front of their members!

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Sep 30 2020 18:29

Good post, I'd agree with pretty much all of that, especially the conclusion.

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Oct 15 2020 20:16

For anyone following these debates, New Socialist have now published a reply to the "Critical Support for Renters' Unions" article: Is there Power in a Tenants' Union?