TENANTS WHO FIGHT TOGETHER, WIN TOGETHER
Over the course of the past two months, OTU has been working patiently with a group of tenants in Bellevue (a suburb of Omaha) to draft and deliver a collective demand letter regarding a number of repairs that have gone unaddressed for months. After getting 80% of the tenants in this apartment building to sign off on the demand letter, we are proud to announce that the property management company has been forced to accept almost all of their demands. This marks the largest successful collective tenant action in Omaha to date.
We were made aware of this apartment complex in early June, when a tenant from one of the buildings reached out to us about the laundry list of repairs she and her fellow tenants had asked the property management company to make, but had been ignored for months. Prior to reaching out to us, this tenant — in a brilliant display of working class initiative — had already taken it upon herself to go door-to-door in her building to talk to her neighbors and see what type of issues they were having. She documented this information carefully and discussed taking action to get changes made with her fellow tenants. Eventually, her and a few others decided to call the City Inspector together, thinking that this would provide swift results. The City Inspector, of course, did not care and did nothing to help them. If you’ve been following us for a while, this should come as no surprise. OTU has heard countless stories of tenants calling the City Inspector, only to have nothing done. As an appendage of the capitalist State, city government ultimately exists not to serve the wellbeing of the masses, but to defend the interests of those who possess property. However, many tenants mistakenly view the city inspection process as an impartial procedure that will ensure justice is served. When this doesn’t happen, many tenants simply give up, thinking the City Inspector has the final word and that there are no other options left. This is by design — this useless process serves to extinguish the rightful anger of the tenants who turn to it, and quells discontent.
Fortunately, the tenant who led this effort persevered and reached out to OTU to explore further options. After meeting with her to get a better idea of the issues going on in the building, she helped OTU distribute surveys and get in touch with the other tenants to begin drafting a more formal list of grievances. In the weeks following, we sat down with every tenant in the building we could, convincing them of the necessity of direct action. OTU was able to rally the tenants behind the idea of hand delivering a collective demand letter, and had them all assist us in drafting it. In addition to the demands for repairs to individual units, the letter (pictured below) also contained demands for changes to made to the building as a whole. We then had the tenants sign off on the demand letter to not only express support for their personal grievances, but to show solidarity with the demands of their fellow tenants as well. The collective demands included mold inspections, repairs to the laundry room which had been flooding repeatedly and had holes in the ceiling causing it to spill debris into the washer, and a $100 rent reduction until the pool was fixed — which had not been functional for two years, and many of the tenants said played a big role in them choosing to live there.
Last week, two OTU members went with the lead tenant to deliver the letter in person to the property management representative in the leasing office. We read off the demands, let the tenant state her piece and expand on her fellow tenants’ expectations, and told them we expected all these demands to be met within two weeks. The representative had little to say beyond that she’d have to send the letter and the signatures to corporate. This company is a very large realty company that owns hundreds of properties in Omaha, so this was pretty much what we expected.
Yesterday, we went back to the leasing office to check in and see if the demands were being met. She informed us that all the demands were being met, and that all the individual unit repairs would be completed by next Friday. The only demand that wasn’t met was the $100 rent reduction, but this was because the pool was literally being filled with water as we arrived — the first time this has happened in two years. We will be returning again soon to ensure that the demands are actually being met, but for now we are chalking this up as a victory. And with five more buildings in this complex, our work there is far from over.
This victory was achieved with relatively little conflict (for now), and may seem like a pretty small win given the relatively basic nature of the repairs. But OTU considers this to be our most important victory yet. This win represents a qualitative advancement of our methods of work. Up to this point, almost all of our victories have involved an individual tenant facing some sort of gross abuse by their landlord. Individual victories are important in that they: a) demonstrate that direct confrontation with landlords works b) give us an opportunity to agitate and politicize the masses and c) inspire others to join OTU and other revolutionary organizations. But this is not sufficient. These individual victories have lacked the crucial component of *collective* action — multiple tenants in a given building or complex working together to present a large number of demands in solidarity with one another. This is imperative, as it is only through collective action that we can truly begin to build and wield real class power. And it is only by expanding and coordinating this type of collective action on a much greater scale — both in tenant organizing and other areas of struggle — that we can build the power necessary to overthrow landlords and their fellow ruling class parasites for good. Victories such as this represent the very small seeds of that power. This isn’t an impossibility, it is a necessity — and an attainable one at that.
We cannot give enough credit to the lead tenant who took the initiative to begin organizing her building on her own accord. Despite being a very busy single mother, this woman courageously took it upon herself to put in the time and effort to lead her fellow tenants in standing up against their apathetic and exploitative leasing agency. This victory will serve as an example to every building we enter from here on out. We can point to this to show tenants the necessity and efficacy of collective action as we seek to organize larger actions and begin to develop the infrastructure necessary to go from a series of loosely connected victories, to the creation of a real Omaha Tenants *Union*.
COMBAT LANDLORDS, BUILD TENANT POWER
TODAY OUR HOMES, TOMORROW THE WORLD