Concept and strategy ideas for the foundation of the Tenants’ Union Berlin (MGB)

This text is intended as a first proposal for an independent union organization of Berlin tenants.

We who propose this are activists who have been and are already engaged in building house communities, neighborhood and tenant initiatives. We see the need to create a tenants’ union to initiate long-term organizing of tenants and the building of collective power.

For us, this is an overdue addition to the initiatives active in the urban political landscape, the structures of the Berlin Tenants’ Association and the Berlin Tenants’ Community. We are convinced that the advantage of a tenants’ union lies in the long-term development of collective structures to assert the interests of the tenants themselves. The project also serves to establish new means of struggle and demands, such as collective tenancy law, tenants self-determination and, in the long term, the rent strike, with the aim of fighting more effectively for our interests. We are sure that other tenants feel the same way. We would like to introduce them to our concept and win them over to the tenants’ union.

Why do we need an independent tenants’ union?

First of all, this initiative should be locally limited to Berlin, since we live and are organized here. In Berlin, on the one hand, there are very strong tenants’ associations, and on the other hand, there is a wide landscape of activist initiatives. These are organized along the lines of ownership structures, neighborhoods and spatial proximity, house communities or common themes of housing and urban development. Basically, these are also the categories in which to work within our union. Existing structures can join the Mieter:innengewerkschaft, insofar as this is desired by the respective groups. It is important that these groups can benefit from a membership in the union.

The initiative landscape is currently a patchwork quilt. What it lacks is a powerful union that bundles the interests of the individual initiatives and enables tenants to speak with a united, strong voice and fight against the interests of landlords. In this way, continuity, the transfer of knowledge and the assertion of higher-level demands are to be achieved. In view of the many initiatives and the activist character, which is often limited in time thematically and along campaigns, we hope for the following from union organizing:

  1. a new quality of long-term and structure-based organizing
  2. the testing of new means of struggle such as direct action and forms of rent strikes
  3. the struggle for collective tenancy rights and tenant self-determination.
  4. the organized transfer of knowledge among each other with the goal of tenant self-empowerment

The current associations are used by most members as service providers and legal protection insurance. However, very often the individual tenants themselves are not empowered and certainly not organized. In addition, the individualization that landlords and German tenancy law impose on tenants is usually maintained by the associations. There is too little collectivization of struggles or they end up in individual court cases. Last but not least, the fact that the members are not very involved in the structures and that there are few militant and collective actions means that the lobbying power of the tenants’ associations remains very limited. This is where we want to start and work towards the self-empowerment and collective organization of tenants.

Basic features of a grassroots federalist organization

We see our project of a tenants’ union in a historical continuity with the development of the wage workers’ union. These emerged about 120 years ago from collective struggles on the basis of a common proletarian reality within a diverse field of interest groups, associations and initiatives. As tenants we also share a common reality of life, which is determined by the private ownership of housing. We want to apply forms of struggle that have been established in the field of trade union labor struggles to the social and structural struggles in the field of housing.

Not all unions are the same. Political and social organizations can be very different. We want to be a pluralistic, independent tenants’ union that is as diverse as the tenants’ movement itself. The Berlin tenants’ union should be a expression of the different positions and problems that tenants have to deal with today. Instead of primarily appealing to politics, it can use its means of struggle to enter the ring against seemingly overpowering landlords. The union should be organized in a federalist and grassroots democratic way.

Thinking outside the box: changes in society as a whole

Programmatically, we do not want to stop at rent policy. The most pressing problems in Berlin also concern, but not only, rent levels, but the general housing situation and urban development:

Displacement, up to 20,000 forced evictions in Berlin every year and up to 10,000 homeless people, exploding rents and speculative vacancies are all symptoms of the fact that housing is treated as a commodity and that politics protects and supports it. Tenants have no right of co-determination over their living space and the housing situation deprives us of the freedom to live as we want or need. Needs are subordinated to the profit motive and the interests of housing companies. There is a need for a comprehensive democratization of the housing situation that enables all tenants to participate in decision-making and to assert their interests and needs.

As long as people have no decision-making power over the spaces in which they live or want to live, these conditions will not change. Housing should not be a commodity, but decisions should be made by the residents themselves. Since the different areas of society are interrelated, health care, food, education, energy, etc. must be put under the service and control of society as a whole, in addition to the socialization of land. Likewise, in our city it is above all tenants who are affected by displacement and precarious housing conditions, who are structurally discriminated against. This leaves little at the end of the month for rent, among other things, or they simply have no chance on the housing market. This is no coincidence, but has system. The Tenants’ Union is anti-racist, feminist and opposes all forms of discrimination.

Comprehensive self-determination cannot be realized through individual sub-areas. An emancipatory trade union must therefore understand and realize the development of a collective tenancy law, the tenants’ right to self-determination and the socialization of the private housing market as part of a struggle for a society based on solidarity. Consequently, this also means a local and supra-regional networking with other initiatives and trade unions working in the field of democratization. Together, housing policy demands can be developed that fit into a progressive social policy from below.

Initiative Mieter:innengewerkschaft Berlin | 2020