Glasgow Under Siege

ACORN International Community Organizations International Community Organizing

            Glasgow          ACORN’s affiliate in Scotland is the Living Rent Union which has offices in both Edinburgh and Glasgow and branches and members elsewhere in this part of the United Kingdom.  Walking to our office from the central train station, the national coordinator Emma Saunders warned me that their offices were near St. George’s Square which were currently the locus of much of the COP26 protest action.  Sure enough, as we got nearer, we could see crowds of people milling about here and there.  Banners and flags were flying.  Lunchtime crowds were lining up on the sidewalks.  The atmosphere then seemed more carnival than demonstration, but clearly sparks had been flying earlier and were expected later.

I spent my time getting to know our organizers better and the Living Rent program more fully.  ACORN International is a federation so although all of the organizations have much in common (membership dues, elected leaders different than organizers, direct action, etc.), each one is also a bit different.  The recent annual meeting of LRU for example had voted against being a community union and also voted to bar any members who were not tenants.  A principle of ACORN has always been to expand the membership, not narrow it, and our earliest roots more than fifty years ago had been to expand to include the full range of low-and-moderate income families, rather than restrict the membership narrowly to only welfare recipients.

Living Rent is still working this out on its own terms, so it will be interesting to see how the membership position on these issues evolves in coming years.  Part of the tension comes from his history, I was informed.  I had seen it largely as an outgrowth of the work of our first affiliates in Scotland, EPTAG, the Edinburgh Private Tenants Action Group, and ACORN Scotland, where now their narrative focused on a small 2014 campaign called Living Rent that was a coalition formed by EPTAG and the student union in Scotland.  Now they preferred to date their founding more to that campaign, even though much of their organizing model and founding leadership and strength came from EPTAG and ACORN’s efforts.  Perhaps that explains why the membership is still trying to sort all of this out, but as I say, ACORN is a federation of separately organized and autonomous organizations, so our strength comes from our amalgamation, not the individual entities of member organizations, so it’s their story, and we’re fine with that.

Living Rent has been growing rapidly with teams in both major cities of four or more, much larger than during my last visit.  Their membership has swollen to thousands now and part of the fruit of Emma’s work has been much greater success in developing resources for the organization.  Their work at the Scottish Parliament has produced vital victories around rent and tenant protections, which we all wish we could duplicate elsewhere.

At COP26 we are hoping to advance our international retrofit campaign to improve the climate readiness of the often substandard housing of our members and communities, saving them money, as well as the climate, by reducing their bills with better windows, doors, and insulation.  Hopefully, this will be one more step forward.