Empowering Working-Class People through Community Action: Acorn Renters Union

Housing & Communities Writer

Housing & Communities Writer

“Power concedes nothing without demands”

[Paul Williams national organiser from Acorn Speech]

I am Paul and I am one of the national organisers for Acorn and for those who don’t know, Acorn is
a Community Union of working-class people fighting for a better life.

We’ve got thousands of members all across the country in about 30 groups
in different towns and cities now and we’ve won campaigns on public transport,
Community safety, defending public services, but we’re probably well
definitely best known for the campaigning we have done on housing including;
Winning affordable housing, Winningrepairs in Council Tower Blocks and
Housing Associations Campaigns to improve rights for renters, as well as
winning repairs for private renters and resisting evictions across the country.

We’re also part of the Renters Reform Coalition which is currently pushing
through reforms for renters rights in Parliament and one of the founding
partners of the Enough is Enough cost of living campaign as well.

I’m not going to go into too much detail about how appalling the
housing situation is in Brighton as I’m sure everyone knows this and I’m sure
you’ve talked about this many times today. I do think it’s important to mention
briefly some of the horror stories I have experience such as; illegal
evictions Revenge evictions, fires, rats, insect infestations, assaults from
landlords and what seems to be some of the worst housing conditions in the

I don’t think I probably need to go into too much detail about how
completely insufficient the people of our council is with pretty much no
consequences for landlords to break the law in Brighton and often when the
council does intervene, um we’ve come across it resulting in
people being revenge evicted and harassed by landlords, because of the
lack of protection that people currently get from this Administration.

So in terms of practical Solutions I think what I want to talk about is
something that is absolutely key to how Acorn organises and key to all of our
successes and that’s power! So it’s great that so many people and
organisations here to talk about some really good ideas and come up with
policies and things like that but key to how Acorn has always organised unless we
have the power to force the decision makers whether that’s, governments
councils, landlords to give us what we want I don’t think we’re going to get very far.

So to to use a quote from an American slave abolitionist Fredrick Douglas claims
he said “Power concedes nothing without demands” and it’s true so that’s what Acorn does!

So across the country we’ve won campaigns against councils, governments, landlords because we make
demands and back it up with action. That includes going to a letting agent’s office and refusing to leave until they
get vital repairs done that includes physically resisting bailiffs when
they’re trying to forcefully evict people from their homes and that
involves using direct action against councils and it involves organising
deselection campaigns against politicians who don’t keep their word.

On that note, it’s interesting that we do have Councillor Gibson here today
as the ongoing dispute between the Administration and local Acorn branch is probably
very relevant and a good example I can think of this.

So just to give a better story Acorn members have been meeting with the
council we first approached them over two years ago to come up with some really
constructive ideas to reform housing in the city, including actions to tackle
criminal landlords and increase renters rights but unfortunately much to the
shock and disappointment of our members Councillor Gibson consistently refused
to make any clear commitments on taking action and it’s only when we started
making those demands and backing up with action that we started to make progress
and get policies changed through the council and finally get some clear
commitments from councillors as well.

However what we found is that after two years we’ve seen very little to no
progress on any of the promised changes, the excuses that we often get from a lot of
administrations but particularly what Brighton have been saying Covid, Staff Shortages, Cost of living crisis and
also bizarrely Council staff being blamed for actively undermining the
administration which suggests something going seriously wrong with the current Administration.

What we have found recently is that the administration will
backtrack and some of their key commitments to increase prosecutions and fines on
criminal landlords and Target dates for landlord licensing schemes.

Acorn Brighton members have approached the council leader Phelim
McCafferty, who’s currently refusing to meet with Acorn as he says “he is too
busy” which begs a question that if illegal evictions, dangerous conditions
and assaults from landlords as well as allegations made by councillors that staff
are undermining democratic policy decisions aren’t a priority for this Council,
then what is?

This is nothing new to Acorn we know how to take on politicians who
don’t keep their promises, we are doing it all across the country because we organise
all that, key principle of power demands action. Strangely for Brighton Council
which is run by Green I think they like to view themselves as a
progressive alternative to the mainstream parties, it has been in our
experience, been one of the worst administrations we have had to do with and
that includes some pretty bad labour and Tory councils across the country as well.

I’ve said before what has been successful in other parts of the
country is having the backing of strength in numbers and that’s what we do
in our organization, we organise with strength in numbers, we make sure that
we can hold our leaders accountable we use direct action, we organise and
deselect some councillors & politicians if we need to.

Our Union is made up of working class middle
too low income people. Some people who might know on your own you
have very little to no power, get ignored but if you’re able to unite and use our
strength and numbers and be organised we can win and that’s some of what I want
to add to this day, into this debate or conversation about practical steps is
that ideas equal policies obviously great and really important but it will only get us
so far.

From our experience apparent action by using strength and numbers as well
forces change and yeah you still join Acorn as well.

Thank you.

[Paul Acorn Speech Concluded]




Evidence is KEY