Cork Student Rent Strike: Solidarity is Strength!
Across the country third level students are staging occupations as they fight against rent hikes being enacted by their colleges. In University College Cork the occupation of the Quad has been ongoing since Tuesday the 25th of February, with the Student Union Executive having pledged to continue the occupation 24/7 until the decision is reversed and the demand for a three year rent freeze is met. As one of the occupying students I can safely say that approaching a week into the occupation morale amongst the occupiers and wider student body is very high despite the inclement weather conditions. This is largely due to the occupation being seen as a relatively radical development by many, such a form of direct action not being the typical approach of student unions in the recent past. It is a welcome step in the right direction in the student discourse, replacing tokenistic marches and perceived PR stunts. The spread of similar actions across other colleges has lended occupiers determination to see their struggle through in the knowledge that students across the country are fighting the same fight. Solidarity has been coming from all quarters; staff, political parties and trade unions including the USI,IFUT and of course the IWW. This has been largely expressed through donations of food, but an open letter of support has been in circulation among staff, with each additional endorsement sending a notification to the University president. The final amount of signatories as of Friday 28th stands at 660 members of staff. Media coverage, while fairly frequent towards the start has of course faded over the days and has never really been anything but general and sweeping to begin with , highlighting the importance of recording and remembering our own struggles no matter how small for future reference. The current largest threat to the occupation has been a loss of relevance, with the diminishing of turnout for the duration of the weather warnings for health and safety reducing overnight occupier numbers from c.50 to just over single digits, a fall in numbers which may require effort to correct once weather conditions improve. This in particular highlights the need for our action to always be developing momentum through action; now that an occupation is underway we cannot be complacent. With the occupation determined to be indefinite until such time as demands are met the Cork occupation’s earliest hope of reaching a resolution is March 5th/6th when the chairperson of the relevant board returns to the college. With the anticipated reaction being unsympathetic to the issue the students are facing a large amount of consideration is being given on how to best escalate our action to further apply pressure to the management. Student organisation is beginning to flourish as this focal point brings activists from across the campuses together with a common purpose, intersection beginning to come more and more into focus. This is particularly relevant in the case of UCC, where the upcoming week, the week of March second, sees an overlap of UCC Earth-Week, Equality Week and Seachtain na Gaeilge; with the week after then being UCC Government week. Displays of solidarity have already taken place with occupiers meeting with Climate Strikers outside city hall, with possibility for further action in the future around events such as International Women’s Day on March eighth. The actions of the wider student and agitator movements abroad are a constant source of inspiration for the Irish student movement, be it the trade union solidarity strikers and occupiers of the UK, the student demonstrators of France or the anti-racists of India. Already the rent strike movement of Trinity College Dublin has made use of resources created by the likes of the Autonomous Design Group. Our struggle is global and our solidarity should be too. As a discourse around tenant unions, rent strikes and co-operative housing grows among students the future of Ireland’s student movement grows brighter. We must organize to ensure that remains the case!