Warsaw: ZSP Starts Rent Strike Action

Warsaw: ZSP Starts Rent Strike Action

Polish anarcho-syndicalist organisation ZSP is calling for a rent strike in Warsaw starting on Oct. 1.

The strike is meant as a protest against the housing policy of the city and against serious problems with the reprivatization process in Poland. It is meant as a means of radicalizing tenants' protest, which the local politicians try to ignore. It aims to bring together tenants who face eviction or live in dangerous and substandard housing to organize for their own mutual self-defense. The strike will be accompanied by public meetings, assemblies and hopefully the creation of neighbourhood committees.

A brief description of some of the most pressing problems of Warsaw tenants:

- In April 2009, rents were raised up to 300% in some Warsaw neighbourhoods. Local politicians, at the time, claimed that this was necessary in order to repair houses which are in a tragic state. Unfortunately, when it was time to submit the city budget for 2010, it turned out that this money was earmarked, among other things, for bonuses for politicians. Only consistent protest led to part of this money being returned, and then only in the Praga district.

- The income criteria for receiving public housing is far too low and is not based on reality. In some countries, criteria are based on indicators such as the average cost of housing in the city. As the Tenants' Defense Committee pointed out in inquiries and statements to the President of the City of Warsaw, rental of one-room flats in Warsaw on the commerical market start at about 450 euros per month and the only housing which could be cheaper is the illegal subletting of municipal flats. Yet people with incomes over 300 euros per month are not eligible for public housing.

- The city of Warsaw, in its housing policy until 2012, plans on reducing the number of municipally owned and run flats.

- Since the city does not repair its public housing, thousands are forced to live in substandard conditions, including: lack of heat; lack of private toilets / bathrooms; fungus problems; living in buildings which may collapse; severe overcrowding; living in buildings where there are fire hazards and threat of explosion (faulty gas installations and homemade heat installations). When the city does react, it is usually to resettle people from these houses. People are forced out of their communities and people who had some problems with paying rent in the past are moved into worse "social housing", which might even be a container.

- When repairs are done, tender contracts are usually awarded to the same companies connected in some way to the public housing mafia. The Tenants Defense Committee has documented many cases of repairs done at artificially inflated costs or not done at all, but charged to the city.

- Tens of thousands have been affected by the reprivatization process. The city does not consider tenants to have the right to be informed about claims on their buildings, does not provide them information on the process or even the names of the new owners of the building. (The Tenants' Defense Committee helps people obtain this data.) Many claims turn out to be fraudulent but the law considers that once a property is resold, it cannot overturn the sale based on fraudulent acquisition of the property to begin with. Tenants in reprivatized houses often become the victims of slumlords who illegally raise their rents many times above the permitted level and who use tactics such as cutting off heat or water to get people out. The legal system does not protect people against these things in practice. Many tenants cannot afford the new rents and become debtors, subject to eviction. The city does not automatically supply replacement municipal housing.

There are many other problems. A shortened version of the Tenants' Defense Committee's report to the City of Warsaw can be found here: http://lokatorzy.info.pl/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/wadliwa-polityka-lokalowa.pdf
(in Polish)

It is clear that the city has, for years, been collecting rent from tenants but refuses to invest this money in either the maintainance of buildings or the construction of new public housing. Local politicians have been diverting money from public housing and allocating less and less for this purpose. Tenants do not have any influence in this matter - unless they protest and hold these politicians accountable.

ZSP thinks that even this is not enough. Public housing belongs under popular control, which will prove more efficient and beneficial than spending countless hours trying to track down, expose and correct the fraud committed by the local housing authorities, real estate speculators and reprivatizers and local politicians on a daily basis.

Thousands of people in Warsaw currently face eviction because they are not able to pay their rent. Some are unable, but some are simply protesting against things like illegal rent hikes or fraudulent reprivatizations. The rent strike is a way for people to articulate their protest and stop being nameless individuals lumped into the category of "debtor". It is also a way for people to see this problem in a political context.

Until now, debtors or potential debtors have faced their problems in isolation. We would like people to see that their problem is common and understand their position as an affected class, with a view towards organizing for mutual self-defense against eviction, slumlords and fraudulent privatization.

Banners are appearing on buildings and public places around Warsaw and posters and propaganda material on the streets and in the houses. (On the photo, banner reading: "Evict the public officials before they evict you".) Some protests and neighbourhood meetings will kick off this action at the beginning of October.

Updated information will appear on the page of the campaign (in Polish)
www.strajkczynszowy.pl

ZSP-IWA
www.zsp.net.pl

Posted By

akai
Sep 14 2010 07:17

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akai
Sep 30 2010 23:54

We are on strike now. ZSP calls for additional actions to be taken after politicians screw tenants again.

Tenants forced the City Council to hold a special session and vote on a resolution proposed by the tenants. However it was clear from the beginning that the ruling party was against. We decided to give it a try anyway - hundreds of people attended, so many that the hall did not hold them all and they were sitting in adjoining halls watching on a big screen. Others came as well - for example unionists who work in the company which makes repairs on public housing.

The council decided that the President of the City should create a group of "experts" for consultation. We don't accept that and call for more radical actions. The strike is officially underway and some protests and actions will soon take place.

More on today's action:

http://zspwawa.blogspot.com/2010/10/zsp-to-start-series-of-direct-actions.html

Steven.
Oct 1 2010 09:18

who exactly are you calling on to strike? Tenants in publicly owned/government housing? Sorry, I think I'm not well enough acquainted with the housing situation in Poland to completely understand this

akai
Oct 1 2010 10:33

Public housing and reprivatized housing.

You can try to read some past articles on this situation:
http://cia.bzzz.net/search/node/tenants

Or I can answer any questions about this.

We will try to make a press release explaining these points later today.

akai
Oct 1 2010 14:58

Here is more on the strike, with some background notes:

Today the rent strike called by ZSP has started in the capital of Poland.

The strike was called in response to the horrendous housing policy of the city. For those not convinced of the necessity to strike, last
night was the straw that broke the camel's back: the City Council blew off tenants who have been protesting for months and did not vote for the resolution prepared by them.

The Council session lasted until 22:30 last night. Hundreds of people
jammed into the main hall; there was not enough room for everybody, so people also sat in the next rooms, watching on a big screem. The presentation made by tenants did not make an impression on the Vice President or most of the councilpeople, who just try to convince people that they have to accept that there will never be adequate public housing in this city. (These were almost the exact words of two politicians.) In the end, the Council just voted to let the President call a special group of "experts" to "consult" with.

The people know what a farce that will be. The arrogant and inhuman stance of the politicians convinced more people that radical steps, as proposed by the ZSP, are the only ones that make any sense.

Tomorrow starts the first of two protests scheduled in the next days. More direct actions will be held. A tenants assembly takes place tonight to discuss strategy.

A few hundred people have expressed support for these actions already.

In the meanwhile. ZSP has started to inform people about a legal
loophole one comrade found which may delay eviction indefinitely. City authorities are livid but it will take quite a while for them to amend the problem and, in the meanwhile, rent strikers may use this.

The rent strike also comes after the Voivoidship's recent decision
with raises rents even higher, plunging more people into a desperate situation.

ZSP would like to see public housing come under popular control and politicians evicted from their offices. In the meanwhile, it has other immediate demands with include the reduction of rents to the pre-May 2009 rate, raising the income criteria to qualify for public housing, increased investment in repair and building new housing, providing new public housing to tenants in buildings that have been reprivatized and ending all irregularities related to reprivatization and public housing procedures.

Below are a few issues related to the housing problem:

1. After the nazi bombings in WWII, there was little housing left in
Warsaw. The owners of many houses had either left the country or were killed in the war. Many new buildings were constructed on land where there used to be private houses. Some houses which were of historic value or only partially destroyed, were rebuilt with public funds and often using the volunteer labour of the people who lived there (tenants) or future tenants who would receive housing in exchange for their labour.

The PRL government turned much formerly private housing into public housing and sent tenants to live there.

The reprivatization process has meant the return of formerly private homes, without the necessity to find substitute public housing for the tenants.

Reprivatization is often fraudulent. For example, some companies owned flats or part of a building. But these companies ceased to exist during the PRL period. However, due to legal absurdities in Poland, any pre-war company can be reactivated - with complete property rights - upon the presentation of "proof of ownership" - in other words, paper stocks. However, since paper stocks were worthless during the PRL period and did not represent ownership rights, they were treated as collector items, often winding up in antique and used book shops. According to absurd Polish law, any person who collected these stocks can reactivate the company and treat these stock as valid.

Although there are some legal measures being taken against this type of fraud, the other legal absurdity is that, once a reprivatized
building is sold to a third party, there is no possibility to annul
the sale, even if the property was acquired by fraudulent means!

Another type of fraud is producing false papers; we have found many "heirs" of people who had no children or of people who already received compensation for their property.

The city does not properly check claims. They also do not inform
tenants of claims started against their buildings and often tenants
find out about this only after ownership of the building is transfered
or sold to a third party. This means that tenants, some of whom are
elderly and remember the original owners and many details of the
ownership, cannot submit documents which may prove the claim false.

The city deliberately makes it near impossible for tenants to receive
information about what is happening to their buildings.

2. After the reprivatization process, the new landlord can raise rents or try to end the rental agreement with the tenants. They often use slumlord tactics (cutting off heat, water, sanitation) to drive people out of their homes sooner. (They are required to give tenants a notice period, but many cannot wait to make money off their real estate.)

3. Much of public housing is deliberately neglected by the city, which mismanages public funds. Many houses are in dangerous condition, do not have heat or hot water, are infested by fungus or are falling down. The city inspectors often condemn buildings and their tenants are moved to worse housing, further away or with smaller space.

4. The income criteria qualifying people for public housing is far too
low. There are no places on the market to rent for people who exceed this limit but are in the average income group. And the city keeps raising rents.

5. The public housing stock is also being deliberately depleted. (This
is part of the city's "public housing strategy".) Every year,
thousands of units are reprivatized, sold or condemned while very
little is built. Thousands of families are on waiting lists and
thousands more are housed in conditions which do not fulfill any norms (too little space per person, no toilets or facilities, etc. etc.).

This is just the tip of the iceberg.

We say no to speculation, no to profiteering off this basic human need, no to the anti-social policies and practices of the local
administration and no to the assumptions of private property and
inherited wealth.

We call on tenants to organize themselves, show mutual aid and
solidarity to their neighbours and fight back against these housing
practices which are ruining more and more people's lives!

Steven.
Oct 1 2010 15:05

thanks for the further information - let us know how it goes, how well supported the strike is, etc

akai
Oct 2 2010 19:41

I think as you can understand, there are not many radical grassroots movements in Poland and the situation is worse and worse for us all the time in terms of the social environment. Support will have to be built up over the coming months - so far it is only a couple of hundred people. One of the problems of course is the scare tactics of the administration. This means fewer people than that are willing to come out in public with their support / participation, which means it is going to be slower to build. Furthermore, until now we functioned as the Tenants Defense Committee, which is politically more neutral than ZSP. This action is with red and black posters and flags and more radical postulates, so initial support is mostly from our own environment and people who integrated with ZSP. The local demo today drew only about 75-80 people, which was less than we expected, but not bad considering some media calling this whole thing "illegal" and trying to scare people. We think that as we spread info about the ways to avoid eviction, more people will support this action. We didn't expect the whole city to join in right away, nor are we sure we will ever get really mass support, but this is sort of a breakthrough thing for this movement and for us and it is making noise and scaring the politicians who have sent special crews around the streets to remove posters and have their PR people on this.

Also, one thing which I would point out is that one of the most excluded groups in social life in Poland - women over 45 - are the main participants.

There are some photos from the demo here:
http://internationalworkersassociation.blogspot.com/2010/10/demonstration-public-housing-in-hands.html