Letter: Rents: To Pay or Not To Pay?
Like all other papers of what is known as the “left” you just now devote a good deal of attention to rents. In your February issue for instance there are two articles on the subject. In each of these you mention the 1915 rent controls. But you do not give the reason why the control was imposed in 1915. It was because in Glasgow and other towns in Scotland tenants not only refused to pay the increase but refused to pay any rent at all. As indeed some are doing in Northern Ireland to-day. The government in Westminster was terrified and in great haste passed the Rent Control Act making it illegal to demand increased rents. This of course was a great blow to landlords and they have by one means or another, with the assistance of all governments, been getting round it ever since as described in your first article “Why Rents Must Go Up”.
Unfortunately you have not learnt the lesson, if tenants of council or landlord living accommodation refuse to pay any rent at all or if those who are forced to borrow money to get a place to live in refuse to pay out rent charges no power can force them to do so if they stand united.
Having read your paper for many years I know your normal reply would be “What of it”, even if British workers do not pay capitalism will still exist and people in France, the USSR, China etc. etc. will still be paying rents. True enough but if the British worker can defeat the landlord and money lender in the matter of rents etc., it will not be long before others follow their example. After all you are not against the miners, you say, — “They should have the support of all other workers etc. etc.”
Let us see the SPGB taking up the fight for the workers on the rents issue and advocating “No rents or interest charges for lousy accommodation”.
The episode to which our correspondent refers was a consequence of housing shortage after the outbreak of the 1914-1918 war. House-building virtually ceased when the war began, and in the munitions-producing areas the shortage gave a special opportunity for profiteering in rents. In Glasgow, tenants in slum districts refused to pay increased rents and were supported by the militant Clyde workers. The outcry was a principal factor in causing the government to pass the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (War Restrictions) Act, 1915.
It was, as Tom Braddock says, “a great blow to landlords”; this was one of the themes of our article Why Must the Rent Go Up? However, he is assuming that a blow against landlords is a blow against capitalism. In fact, a reduction in so large an item in working-class living costs is extremely welcome to the other sections of the capitalist class. Rent control has remained in force for fifty-seven years because it has helped keep wages down; a free market in rented housing would inevitably mean universal demands for higher wages. The present government and its predecessors have been as frightened of this as Braddock says they were of agitation in 1915, and have made concessions to landlords only because the alternative — already happening — was having large numbers of controlled houses deteriorating into slums.
As for the suggestion that the working class should now refuse altogether to pay rent or mortgage interest, Braddock does not tell us what would be achieved by this. He does not imagine, surely, that every household would then find itself better off by that amount every week? If he does, his reading of the Socialist Standard for many years cannot have been attentive.