Tenants Burn Law, Declare War

Tenants Burn Law, Declare War

Warsaw tenants fight on, taking direct action, challenging the law and giving the politicians a hard time.

Things are getting hot for bureaucrats, property speculators and thieves as Warsaw tenants take more and more action. Yesterday tenants protested at the parliament, burning the Law on the Protection of Tenants which they claim is meaningless and only protects the interests of property owners. "At least we'll put this meaningless paper to good use - by keeping warm," claimed the tenants as they lit a bonfire. They reminded people that throughout Warsaw, people must resort to burning all sorts of things in their homes to keep warm as many houses still have no heat and as slumlords cut off gas to drive people out of their homes. At a time when many tenants, often elderly, are sitting home freezing, it is much better to take to the streets and protest. Where there is no heat, there will be fire - our fires, the bonfires of resistance.

A growing group of hardcore activists are vowing to get better organized, take more action and to stop the state from their anti-social and thieving activities. Warsaw ZSP is part of the Tenants' Defense Committee which organized the protest yesterday and invited other associations with which it has contact. The Committee has declared war on city bureaucrats who make horrendous policies to enrich speculators and to redistribute property to elites, heirs of former elites, speculators and developers. Their cronies also earn on overpriced public tenders, often related to gentrification, but not the real improvement of public housing standards. The Committee has been exposing corruption, blocking the plans of the local bureaucrats and intervening on behalf of tenants with direct actions. It has publically opened a list of empty flats and buildings, suitable for squatting.

Tenant activity ranges from peaceful protest, to direct action to legal action. Some people are trying to fight bandit reprivatization through the courts. Today was such a case of a tenant from the Citizen24 group who is seeking ways to legal overturn some of the conditions of reprivatization. Reprivatization of public housing has been a tragedy for many hundreds of families in Warsaw, especially for the elderly. Housing that was private before the Second World War is reprivatized. The owners are dead, but the property goes to heirs, to people who claim to be heirs, to people who forged documents, or speculators who have nothing to do at all with the property but bought claims to the property years ago, when it seemed like getting property back would never happen. In the meanwhile, tenants are transferred to a new, private landlord who wants to do nothing but raise the rent - or sell the building, even to be destroyed. The law is constructed in such a way that the state is not required to provide them with alternative public housing. Only if the new landlord decides to evict them and the tenants meet very rigorous criteria can they qualify to get on a waiting list for public housing ---- and these conditions, were an improvement over the old ones, a small improvement won by months of tenants' protests.

Some tenants will fight losing their homes in any way possible. Some refuse to move, blockade themselves in their houses, fight with the landlords, become illegal tenants or squatters. Others are fighting now to overturn illegal privatizations - only again the law does not protect tenants. Illegally privatized housing is often resold and the courts consider that the new owners purchased the property "in good faith". It is increasingly clear to even non-politically minded tenants that the law was made by property holders and speculators, for property holders and speculators, and tenants are only treated as possible sources of income for the parasitic speculators and landlords.

At yesterday's demonstration, dozens of tenants spoke about the awful experiences they had with reprivatization, or with the city trying to get rid of them to gentrify their houses. And as more and more of these stories are repeated in the press, more people are becoming aware of the extent of the problem. At today's court session, the courtroom was overrun by tenants who hope that the Constitutional Tribunal will declare at least some aspects of reprivatization laws to be against the Constitution.

Also today, we can gladly report that the pandemonium caused by tenants protests, and in particular the Committee's analysis and protest of the city budget, means that Warsaw still has no budget approved for 2010. The politicians will try to pass one in an emergency session of the City Council next week. The Committee has vowed to block, through direct action, any attempts to vote on the budget as long as the city does not allocate 100 million zloties for new housing.

Why 100 million zloties? Last year, the City Council voted on drastic rent hikes (200-300%), which came into effect this year. The lying bastards set up a neoliberal brainwashing/PR team to convince the press and public opinion that these increases were necessary and the politicians vowed to use 100% of the money from the rent hikes to fund repairs to devasted public housing. They attempted to accuse us of being "against repairs" and of wanting people to live in slums. The counteroffensive to this propaganda took months and included going in a group of 100 people to the neighbourhood council and taking over the meeting. The Committee pointed out time and time again that money for repairs were already set out in a four-year budget plan adopted a year earlier and that an analysis of previous repairs on public housing showed that a) many repairs were made on gentrifying projects, including on housing that would later be sold or privatized b) the money spent on repairs was often like the amounts the Pentagon spends on toilet seats - overinflated and c) there were many fictious repairs, charged to the city, paid to contractors, but never made. The Committee started to document this and often confronts the authorities with instances of corruption.

Public opinion started to change a little - and then a lot when we got our hands on a draft copy of the budget for 2010. The budget showed that the city not only does not plan to spend the money from increased rents on repairs, but reallocated the money to things like... politicians' salaries. A major scandal broke out.

The Committee demands at the very least that the money be spent on what the bastards promised - or they can overturn the decision to raise the rents. The city tried to respond with PR - but it didn't work. The Vice-President of the City (who is the head of the City Council) has not shown up at the Council since tenants stormed his office a few months ago and officially demanded he be dismissed. A few weeks ago he tried to "make ammends" by announcing that the city would build new housing and held a press conference about it. The press asked the Committee for a response and we asked the politicians to say where they would get the money for this being that they didn't put it in the budget. After some days of embarrassment, the City announced that in fact, yes, there was no money allocated in the budget for the marvelous housing projects that they presented to the press, but maybe the Council of Europe Bank would make the city (another) loan. The Committee had another idea: since the city reallocated 100 million zloties from the funds to repair housing for things like politician's salaries and their mobile phone bills, the Committee proposes that they just tighten their belts, stop chatting and give the money that they wanted to misappropriate to actually build these houses.

The bureaucrats have egg on their faces. Next year is election year and they can't afford such a public relations disaster. In addition, there is an opportunist opposition in the city government trying to gain off this embarrassment. They have also decided to attempt to block the budget and give the ruling party a hard time.

Two weeks ago some tenants interrupted the Council. Others stayed and heckled and vowed to block the budget voting with protests, except the opposition also blocked it from the floor. Next week, before the emergency session, the Committee will try to make a final push on the city to at least build some houses. Even though the neoliberal ideology is deeply ingrained in most of society, there is wide public support for these demands. People have had enough of corruption.

But the movement, although it gained a loud voice in public discussion, is still not supported widely enough. This is a typical problem of the passivity of Polish society. More and more people will need to join, but for some, the lack of early response has already lost them their home. People are being moved into containers, or are forced to crowd into relatives' flats. The city even officially tells people now that if they lose their flats, they can move in with their parents - even if they live in a totally different city. (What better way to gentrify the town?)

The Committee calls on people to take direct action, organize themselves to help each other, block evictions, hold politicians and speculators accountable for their corruption and to put as much pressure on the bastards as possible to force a better social housing policy. In lieu of this, we say, take the law into your own hands, and burn it.

Background on the situation of reprivatization and the tenants' movement:
http://cia.bzzz.net/tenants_organize_a_grassroots_movement_is_spreading_around_poland_but_still_has_a_long_way_to_go

About the demo at the Sejm: http://cia.bzzz.net/tenants_protest_at_the_sejm

The Committee's webpage (in Polish) www.lokatorzy.info.pl

Comments

Yorkie Bar
Dec 11 2009 19:03
Quote:
i think that htis could cause more problems than they want

Why do you think that, Gary?

~J.

akai
Dec 12 2009 01:09

Obviously people who are afraid of "problems", don't take risks and don't take direct action. But a question is - if you are about to be homeless, what do you have to lose?

Yesterday was an action. This had to do with turning off the gas. There is social housing in a very attractive area - very expensive with elite housing being built. I know somebody from the yuppie side of the street, who is decent but knows that all the neighbours want to see the poor people gone and the city wants to see that place full of yuppie houses. So they run the housing down, claim there is a hazard with the gas installation and wanted to turn off the gas. It's 107 families. So some people came and said they wanted to do something and were even very scared, because in the houses without heat in Warsaw, many people die every winter because people have to do with makeshift heating, which is sometimes dangerous. It usually takes just one person to get drunk and careless and the house can go up in flames.

People from the Committee went early in the morning and the idea was a) to block the turning off of the gas b) to have independent experts there to determine if there is any danger or the installation is good. And it turned out that there were a few minor problems with the gas, the gas needed to be checked everywhere - but everything was fixed by the late afternoon and they resigned from these plans against the tenants. The head of the building inspection was there too and so were cameras filming the whole thing - so it was hard for them to carry out their plans.

During the inspection of the building, which a group of tenants and people from the Committe, including a technical expert oversaw, it turned out that 5 empty apartments were uncovered in the building. Most people didn't even know they were empty and they were asking the administrators how it is that whole families are living in tiny, tiny quarters (some of it really shocking standards - with shared toilets on the corridor for many families - dozens of people using the same rotten, corroded toilets), and they apply to get larger flats and are told there are none but there are even empty ones in their building. It turns out some were empty for years. And we know that some people turned it into extra living space for their families now.

Those people were not afraid to make a direct action, although of course it wasn't everybody from the building, just a small group of them - but enough to be successful. Later one of the people, who was very active and agressive during the action asked us not to put a film with her on the internet, because she was afraid of problems. So we didn't do it. I think this was more about not being at work and pretending to be sick than fearing the bureaucrats. But I understand some people have fear, some people are in more vulnerable situations and might not take direct action. Still, if the city or a slumlord is coming and turning off the gas or water, or throwing them out on the street, direct action is really the only thing that is going to help them and the most effective and enpowering method people have. Everybody who decided to take action today is very happy and feels proud of themselves that they stood up for themselves and were successful.

As for the bonfires, maybe this mislead you. Poland is not Greece and tenants are not burning down the City Hall (although personally I could care less if it went up in flames instead of people's houses). The bonfires is an idea to go around the city with cannisters with bonfires which people can gather around, to get them out of the streets and networking. We'll try one tomorrow night and think it will be both fun and motivating. Burning the legislation in front of the Sejm was a non-violent action, just symbolically sending a message. So far, there have been some direct protests, some a bit tough, but when tenants stormed the Vice President's Office, they were just yelling at him and interrupting him - but nobody beat him or lynched him. Right now, the politicians are more afraid that there are more and more desperate people, so protests might get more radical.

Steven.
Dec 12 2009 16:36

great article, very interesting and informative. Please keep us updated on how this progresses!

akai
Dec 17 2009 00:27

Today was a great action - one that combined different issues, including wasted politic money, anti-social policies and gentrification. It was the first important public confrontation with artist/ yuppie gentrifiers with two bonfires and residents threatening to lynch the politicians who ran away in fear from the crowd. Warsaw is not Athens, but the politicians are afraid of even this. And they will be confronted tomorrow at the City Council as we try to force them to return money they wanted to misappopriate from the budget, to be spent on public housing priorities.

This is what the bonfires / Hyde Park looked like:
http://lokatorzy.info.pl/protest-przeciw-marnotrawstwu-pieniedzy-publicznych/

Across the street from the vacant lot, the city wanted to install a small rubber statue (100, 000 euros worth!) of a neighbourhood drunk that it the yuppies' artistic contribution to the neighbourhood - along with it own security, Instead of an unveiling, the politicians and artist ran away from the protestors, who unveiled the statue themselves and started to abuse the investment. We were told that the moment the police are gone, the statue will be demolished by the residents.

If it is not clear why the local residents dislike the artists and their presence in the neighbourhood undergoing gentrification, you can read here:
http://cia.bzzz.net/tenants_bonfires_and_protests_local_residents_demand_heat_repairs_and_confront_yuppie_artists
It may be silly, but this stupid rubber statue really seemed to be the last straw for many people.

With the temperatures dipping below zero and many freezing in their homes, we will be repeating the bonfires, which attract a lot of people.

Red Marriott
Dec 17 2009 00:48

The use of artists as vanguard of gentrification has quite a long history;
http://libcom.org/library/occupation-art-gentrification

akai
Dec 17 2009 21:01

I know.

Unfortunately, the budget action was not successful; too few people turned out - we are trying to access what went wrong. As some of us were there and later blocked from re-entering, we also suppose this might be a reason.

There were however some ammendments made to the budget and some left politician was trying to convince us that the leftists helped us tremendously. (Bullshit - they were just the false opposition who already had agreed this farce with the neoliberals.) 50 million zloties were reallocated - half of what we demanded, and not all on the purpose we demanded. However some other things that we were criticizing, like lack of money for the local hospital, were addressed and it is getting a big cash injection. This isn't totally satisfactory though since the city is way over budget and is wasting a lot of money - so it is issuing new obligations and wants to borrow a lot of money from the World Bank. The politicians and media are claiming we are "not realistic", "not grateful", etc., because they "gave" a lot of extra money for the neighbourhood but the indoctrinated cannot seem to understand that these are PUBLIC FUNDS, that the politicians are giving us NOTHING, just taking away and pretending then to be generous by giving a few crumbs.