A soggy Sunday afternoon saw Edinburgh Private Tenants Action Group’s second annual general meeting, which took place at the Macdonald Road library in Leith.
The AGM was kicked off by an inspiring video message from Wade Rathke, chief organiser for Acorn International, which EPTAG is affiliated to. Wade visited Scotland earlier this year and trained a number of EPTAG members in community organising, and supported door knocking in Stockbridge. Wade shared his optimism for community action in Scotland, and the power of private tenants organising. It was a good reminder that the struggles of private tenants in Scotland are also part of a bigger global picture.
Our Chair then introduced Dr Ann Petrie, who gave a fascinating talk about the rent strike of 1915, with a particular focus on the East Coast of Scotland. Ann painted a picture of damp crowded tenements, where landlords often owned whole blocks of flats. She spoke about the fact that landlords were unified, and agreed rent increases amongst themselves before imposing them upon tenants. The renters of Dundee didn’t stand for rent increases at a time when the price of food was also increasing exponentially, and they were suffering other hardships of wartime. Tenants banded together and held meetings attended by thousands of residents, and agreed not to pay their rents. Tenants barricaded their stairwells, and refused to let rent collectors in. These strikes were supported by local trade unions, who threatened to strike if tenants were evicted or prosectued. Ann made the case that there was a lot more radical tenant action in the East Coast than is often imagined, with strikes taking place in Fife, Dundee and Leith. Years of strikes and action lead to the government eventually capping rents for the duration of the war. A victory, but one perhaps not fully realised until the massive social housing building of the Attlee Government in the 1940s.
Listening to this account of our social history was illuminating, particularly coming to understand differences and similarities between our own situations as renters today. Landlords and tenants were more polarised than they are currently, and landlords tended to own whole blocks of flats, rather than flats dotted around the city. The talk gave us a lot of food for thought, if you wish to purchase a copy of Ann’s account of the 1915 rent strikes it can be found here.
After a welcome break for apple pies, shortbread and tea we moved on to the business side of our AGM. Secretary gave a report on progress in the last year. Jon noted the fact that we have tripled membership of our Facebook group, and email announcements list – as well as the fact that we were regularly receiving emails from tenants, which has also increased. Last year at the AGM EPATG decided to become a dues paying membership organisation, to ensure we were really representing tenants in the city. Despite only just beginning to promote membership, we have seen a rapid increase in our dues paying membership, which includes members from other parts of Scotland.
Secretary also gave a brief financial report, noting that this time last year EPTAG were paying for printing/meeting rooms out of the pockets of committee members. Now we are able to pay for these things, as well as a small office from a grant from Edinburgh City Council and dues from members, which represents a real step forward.
We then moved to a report from the Chair, who gave a brief outline of EPTAG’s achievements in the last year. It was clear from his report that the year has been jam packed, and has included protests outside letting agents, a local campaign with Scotmid tenants as well as working to abolish the short assured tenancy.
Following this, 2 motions were proposed and voted upon. The most exciting of these motions was the proposal to expand the reach of EPTAG to become Scotland-wide, with a new group to be set up in Glasgow in the coming months. This is a response to the fact that tenants have joined the organisation from other areas, and we can see the demand for private tenants groups in other cities.
In other business Alyson was elected treasurer, Liz was elected Secretary and Keir remains chair.
The committee acknowledged the hard work done by outgoing office bearers, Jenny, Hazel and Jon.
With that the AGM closed. It was a good balance of reflection on our past and optimism for the future of the organisation. We look forward to seeing you there next year!