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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?

R Totale's picture
R Totale
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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.

klas batalo's picture
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!

R Totale's picture
R Totale
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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.