The Anarchist Society has launched a weekly drop-in to hear from aggrieved tenants and to organise collective action against problem landlords and letting agents.
The sessions are held in conjunction with an off-campus, anarcho-syndicalist organisation called Solidarity Federation (SolFed), which specialises in picketing shops to gain concessions for aggrieved employees.
SolFed claims they have won £22,000 in “stolen wages” since January 2014 in over 20 different cases.
Peter, 39, SolFed member and academic at the University (real name withheld) told The Badger that the group has gained a formidable reputation with Brighton’s business community: “Nowadays it’s enough just to send a letter signed by SolFed…It’s terrible because we are winning things so fast and there’s not much conflict anymore.”
One case, described on SolFed.org.uk, concerned a company that owned two restaurants in busy areas of Brighton which, having claimed insolvency, refused to pay £1964 in owed wages. The owners then reopened one of the restaurants with some of the same staff.
15 SolFed members picketed the location, and after a string of tense meetings with management, negotiated full payment of the disputed sum.
But given that a minority of students hold jobs, Dan, 21, Sussex student and member of the Anarchist Society, said: “We anticipate a lot of people who come to our on-campus drop-in will be having troubles with their housing.”
From landlords traipsing into bedrooms to agencies unjustly holding deposits, Dan said he’s heard it all, and that they can help “whether or not there’s money involved.”
“The first thing we’d do is write a letter, suggesting strongly that if the problem was not resolved before a deadline, we’d have to take action. Then, if the deadline was breached, and if we had the consent of the aggrieved tenant, we’d take action.”
And there’s more to SolFed’s protests than just picketing. For instance, in a dispute with one letting agency, the South London branch of SolFed organised a phone blockade: “They set up a Facebook event, encouraging people to ring up with stupid questions all at once.” The agency’s day-to-day operations were paralysed by the barrage, and within a few hours the estate agents acquiesced.
One graphic on the SolFed website features TV character Saul Goodman, a lawyer famous for fixing the problems of his oft-underprivileged clientele. Next to it the words: “Better Call SolFed.”
But Dan ultimately does not want the group to be thought of as superheroes or fixers: “We can’t solve everybody’s problems. What we want to do ideally is to teach people the value of organisation so they can collectivise and help themselves in the future. We’re about solidarity, not charity.”
The SolFed drop-in runs every Tuesday in Fulton 113 between 6pm and 7pm. For information, contact the Anarchist Society at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Mark Tovey