Anonymous submission to MTL Counter-info
To pledge to join the strike, fill out this quick form. 5,000 pledges are needed. More information, including sample letters, graphics, pdfs, and events, will be posted here. To support the strike, hang a banner from your balcony. An upcoming event, a BBQ at Parc Lafontaine (corner of Panet/Sherbrooke), 12pm, this Saturday (Aug 19) will go over the following points in detail. For questions about the strike, email email@example.com.
On August, 2nd the Montreal Autonomous Tenants’ Union released a call for a rent strike across the city. The strike is against the government’s new Bill 31, against rent hikes, and for housing for all. The call included a pledge form with a required 5,000 pledges from tenants across the city to join the strike before the strike could officially begin.
To some, a call for a rent strike of 5,000 tenants across Montreal may seem ambitious and risky. The purpose of this text is to respond to legal and political concerns. We hope that this text helps supporters and likely allies better understand the strike and find ways to help.
Hundreds of tenants are currently on rent strike across Ontario. In the past six years, rent strikes have exploded from Los Angeles, to Parkdale, to New York, and all across North America during COVID-19. The strikes have proven that withholding rent is our most effective weapon as tenants against the real estate industry. A general rent strike in Montreal would be no exception in its ability to help ignite a social movement and threaten the interests of government and landlords.
Consequently, we think there is broad agreement that if we can pull a strike of this scale off and win, that would be good. We think most disagreement comes from whether this is possible or safe for tenants.
This is a long text. It is meant to be as comprehensive as possible at this moment. It can be scrolled through depending on the questions that interest you. The text is probably missing answers to questions that we have overlooked, or lacks clarity in sections. Please send over thoughts and recommendations for our work moving forward. For a much shorter summary, we recommend our instagram primer on the strike.
Whether a strike is possible or safe boils down to questions about the integrity and seriousness of our plans for the strike, the historic precedents of this kind of rent strike, and the risk of eviction for tenants.
A Summary of the Plan to go on Rent Strike
This plan describes how 5,000+ people could go on rent strike in Montreal for and no one get evicted. A rent strike of this magnitude would be a serious escalation in tenant power, create the basis for future rent strikes in the city, and offer the best chance at beating Bill 31 (a social democratic analysis of the bill can be found here) and rapidly rising rents.
Key parts: This rent strike has four core components 1) an online pledge to go on rent strike 2) banners on balconies against Bill 31 and for a rent strike 3) regular strike meetings of people who have filled out the pledge and the election of strike captains for each neighbourhood in Montreal 4) regular popular education events, leaflets, and posters on how to rent strike safely and historic precedents, and 5) a strike fund to support tenants on strike.
The online pledge is a form (like a Google form but a cryptform), that people sign to pledge to go on rent strike if 5,000 other people sign the pledge. If less than 5,000 people sign, there will be no rent strike. The pledge collects contact information, including phone number and email, as well as neighbourhood. Once someone pledges the union contacts them to get them involved in activities in preparation for a strike.
The banner on balconies (or signs on windows) would be a process of people putting banners on their balconies “Against Bill 31 / For a general rent strike” This is a good mobilizational tactic overall against Bill 31, and would encourage people to learn about the rent strike. Flyering outside metro stations, tabling, social media, and banner making events, are being used to encourage people to hang banners from their balcony or put signs in their windows.
Strike meetings would be meetings of people have filled out the pledge. We plan to announce our first strike meeting of people who have filled out the pledge soon. They will occur regularly come September, with a major strike assembly once 1,000 pledges are received, and another major assembly once 4,000 is reached. Strike meetings would be used to coordinate 1) flyering 2) tabling & banner dropping 3) social media sharing 4) workshops on rent striking 5) postering 6) neighbourhood, street, and building organizing to discuss Bill 31 and the increasing cost of rent 7) when the strike is closer, reconfirmation with people who’ve signed the pledge form that they are still interested in going on rent strike through a phone call campaign. Strike captains and committees for each Montreal neighbourhood will be organized at these assemblies. Once the strike starts the strike meetings would be responsible for coordinating mutual aid among strikers, raising strike funds to pay interest and court costs, and targeting landlords and tribunals trying to evict tenants.
Popular education forms will be help regularly to inform people about the strike in greater detail, answer popular questions, and share information about future events.
A Strike fund which we plan to release soon will be designed to support tenants who are on strike facing eviction proceedings. It will also be used to assist tenants facing harassment or antagonism from their landlord because they are strike supporters before and during the strike.
But what if I’m the only tenant under my landlord on rent strike? Even with 5,000 people on rent strike, there will be some tenants under landlords without neighbours on strike. The purpose of the strike meetings would be to coordinate building organizing and street organizing in the case of duplexes and triplexes so that people can draw in their neighbours. It is much easier to convince neighbours to withhold rent if they know it is a city-wide movement and if hundreds of people have banners on their balconies against Bill 31. Even if you are alone, rent strikes, including during COVID, have often had individual tenants joining thousands of others on strike without their neighbours necessarily being involved. The legal protections remain the same (as long as you pay rent before a judge can give a decision, it is much harder to evict you, especially for the first month). With 5,000 and more people on rent strike, it would also clog the tribunal system significantly. It might take a few months before a hearing. Landlords would also be afraid to file for eviction. If they did, the strike committee would hear about it and organize actions against any landlord who tries to evict during the rent strike. Actions could also be organized at the TAL to condemn the eviction process. If the worst does come, which we doubt it would, the strike committee would have funds to help pay for moving costs, legal fees, and possibly subsidize some rent.
What if people don’t actually go on rent strike but have pledged to? This is subject to continued discussion but one important thing would be a calling campaign. If 5,000 pledges is reached, we will call a general assembly to prepare for the strike. Strikers will then coordinate a call campaign to confirm with people before if they’re still interested in a rent strike now that it is a real possibility. So long as 5,000 people are still ready and willing, the rent strike will move forward at an appropriate 1st of the following month (so long as there is ample time to prepare). It would be expected that many more people may join the rent strike if it goes on into a second month.
The History of Rent Strikes and Going Up Against Power “Alone”
The victory of Toronto’s 2017 rent strike of 300 tenants against MetCap Living has set an important example for how rent strikes can achieve much more than our court system will give. Rent strikes continue to unfold in Toronto, with another 300 tenants on rent strikes reported in May of this year. With other recent examples in cities like Los Angeles, it is inarguable that rent strikes are our best chance at collectively winning major concessions.
The concern here is that the rent strike we are proposing would cover a variety of different landlords. Using our model, even if we are encouraging and assisting building organizing, it is very possible that some tenants will be the only tenant on strike against their specific landlord. However, this is not uncommon in the history of successful rent strikes.
In fact, studying the history of notable rent strikes suggests that a mass of tenants striking against a single common landlord as in Parkdale is an exception. Rent strikes have often been generalized social movements against a variety of landlords. Crimethinc’s short history of rent strikes is available here.
COVID-19 is a perfect example of thousands of tenants in different cities going on spontaneous rent strike. Our union has several examples of Montreal tenants solo-ing rent strikes and succeeding during the pandemic (and, in fact, several tenants who have solo-ed rent strikes after the heat of the pandemic, without a broader context of organizing, and won). In the US, for instance, a landlord association estimated 31 percent of tenants went on rent strike for the month of March 2020. Parkdale Organize, which organized Toronto’s 2017 strike, also organized similar multi-landlord strikes. Keep Your Rent Toronto estimated 100,000 people used their forms to notify their landlord of their intention to withhold rent. These strikes succeeded in protecting tenants from having to pay during the heat of the pandemic, even in cities without eviction moratoriums. Strikers used systems of mutual aid, and mobbed court hearings of tenants from different buildings. These strikes had unity between strikers, despite not having the same landlord. This is to be expected when thousands of people are in the same rent-strike boat together.
Other examples come from strikes like Harlem’s 1963 rent strikes, the 1970s Italian auto-reduction movement, Barcelona’s rent strike in 1931, and Ireland’s land wars. In Harlem, for instance, tenants across over 50 buildings of dilapidated housing went on rent strike. One major victory came in the form of many tenants’ rent being temporarily set at $1/month. During Barcelona’s rent strike, tenants would blockade streets to prevent evictions, and break tenants back into their housing, making use of neighbourhood and worker committees.
In New York, eviction defence is currently a popular tool that has been used to stop the eviction of tenants. The most well-known examples are of tenants who have resisted through physical blockades outside of the tenants’ apartment. The blockades are defended by eviction defence networks, not usually other tenants of the same landlord. Although, much more illegal and less legally grey than rent strikes, this strategy of eviction defence has had huge success in New York and elsewhere.
In the worker and tenant sphere, wildcat strikes, boycotts, civil disobedience, refusals of unsafe work, and walkouts, and even strikes such as the Oakland 2011 general strike, have included people spontaneously and even lone-worker striking against specific or different employers or schools with the protection of a broader union or mass movement. In Montreal, you can visit the IWW if your employer is stealing your wages. The IWW can then mobilize their membership to call your employer. The union is leveraging the collective support of workers from a variety of workplaces to individual people who are otherwise alone in front of their boss. They have had a lot of success.
The benefit of our current moment is that, unlike during COVID-19, we have a few more months and weeks to plan the rent strike. We can organize neighbourhood committees to coordinate mutual aid and eviction defence. We can offer more escalation. We can also meet in person, and are more agile in our capacity to do street actions. Mass and neighbourhood meetings of everyone participating in the rent strike would actually be possible this time.
It is not as though we are without legal protections while on rent strike. One protection that Quebec tenants have under Article 1883 of the Civil Code is exactly similar to the protection relied on by tenants who went on strike in Toronto in 2017. If a tenant had eviction proceedings opened against them, as long as they pay their rent back before a judge can render a decision they can avoid eviction. One tactic is to pay back all the outstanding rent on your court date. Other people get a non-profit or lawyer to hold the money in trust and to pay it on this date.
There are limitations to this legal strategy. We understand that frequent delay, if it causes serious damage to the owner, may constitute a legal reason which justifies the eviction of a tenant. For this reason it may be ideal to only do a rent strike for one month. This will be a decision of the strike assembly. We are making sure tenants and our members are familiar with this article.
Legal scholars, most notably Seema Shafei, have also argued for the right to rent strike as being incorporated within our constitutional right to strike or similar associational protections. Striking at work, for instance, is recognized as constitutionally protected.
Above the legal protections, is the practical questions that will face a landlord if they try to evict a tenant on rent strike. If 5,000 people are on rent strike, able to coordinate and organize between one another, attempting to evict a tenant could be… well, difficult. If neighbourhood strike captains and the core strike committee is sufficiently organized, the public would become familiar with any landlord trying to evict a rent striking tenant. We would leverage the power of this mass to make it clear to each and every landlord that they should wait the strike out, instead of applying for eviction. A variety of street and collective actions have been used by SLAM to pressure landlords, and have had major success with much smaller groups.
Another practical protection is the flooding of the tribunals. Basically, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for the tribunals to quickly process 5,000 eviction requests. The hearings would take a lot longer to roll around than expected.
Just as during COVID-19, the landlord will also know that they can expect the rent back eventually. They know that their tenant otherwise makes their rent payments. Unlike the usual situation of eviction, the failure to pay rent is not financial but political. While there are many landlords who would love to evict their tenants for any reason, several landlords may keep a tenant knowing that they will pay their rent more regularly once the rent strike storm has rolled over.
Finally, while we have focused on the case of a tenant who is on rent strike without their neighbours, one of our principal efforts will be spreading rent strikes in buildings with willing tenants. Once one tenant in a building has pledged to go on rent strike, it is a lot easier to convince others. This is possible through the Montreal tenants’ union usual strategy of building and street organizing (organizing common meetings, door-knockings, one-on-ones), and because there will be more optimism around rent striking if you know 5,000 other people, and at least one neighbour are on rent strike. Banners on balconies, street demos, and news coverage, would also inspire increased confidence. If several tenants in a building are on rent strike, the logic of “But I can’t possibly evict all of them at once!” (to quote a landlord during the COVID-19 strikes) applies to a landlord.
There is the possibility of low participation in the rent strike. This is really only a concern for the organizers of the strike, rather than the sympathizers. If 5,000 tenants do not pledge to go on strike, then there simply would be no strike. We would conduct a phone and text message campaign if 5,000 is reached to also confirm that there is continued interest and the 5,000 pledges is not some phantom figure. However, even if 5,000 strikers is not reached, the popular education, flyering, information sharing, the threat of a potential strike to the government, will not disappear. In fact, if 5,000 strikers is not reached, we will still have done a job of spreading knowledge and comfort with tactics of resistance. While failing to get a strike vote can be demoralizing, they can also be excellent opportunities for spreading popular education and training new organizers. While we do not like elected officials, launching a campaign that is likely to not succeed entirely has been used with success by political parties to gradually build a base. But again, success or failure at hitting 5,000 pledges, this is a concern for the organizers, not other tenants.
Once 5,000 people have both pledged and confirmed their interest in a rent strike, if the strike lasts longer than a month (a decision up to neighbourhood committees and the strikers’ assembly), we can certainly expect more tenants’ to join. Every strike we are familiar with significantly increased their numbers in their second month of striking.
But Still, is a Rent Strike Risky?
There are certainly risks with going on rent strike. It is imaginable that the tactics above don’t work, that government repression is too strong against the strike, that the legal protections in place fall through, and several if not several dozen people are evicted. It is possible that relationships of tenants with their landlords take a turn for the worst, or that landlords act outside the bounds of legality or manipulate their legal privileges in response. These are possibilities. We have highlighted above many reasons why we think these possibilities can be mitigated. However, what is probable, going forward… actually, what is almost certain… is that without an organized tenant movement taking risks, using bold tactics, Montreal will be the next Toronto and Vancouver. Our rents will outpace our incomes, the elderly and poor will be harassed and evicted from their units. Homelessness will continue to increase. In ten years, our current rents will seem like a pipe dream. This is all to say, we are balancing competing risks: the risk of bold action versus the risk of inaction. Both could mean eviction, gentrification, poverty, and displacement. For the reasons we highlighted above, we believe taking our chance can lead to huge reward. We can seriously mitigate the risks. It is possible, in fact precedented, that 5,000 people go on rent strike and no one is evicted. The risks we are taking are for a better world and to avoid the risks of a worse one.
People involved in the strike are not professionals. That should be clear. The union has long-time organizers from different milieus. However, they don’t accept the responsibility of housing professionals. Their goal is to offer a tactic to the tenants’ movement: the rent strike. If it is accepted by tenants in the city, we will try our hardest using some of the tactics and goalposts above. But, whatever is done will be up to the tenants involved. The union will help organize the assemblies, popular education, and actions. As in every uprising, though, the union won’t be responsible for every success or mistake made along the way. During the 2012 student uprising in Quebec, over 3,000 people were arrested, people faced disciplinary measures from their university, serious injuries were suffered, and over 400 people faced criminal charges. We can’t say that the 2012 strike organizers were responsible for this repression. We can’t even say that it was “worth it.” All we can say is that sometimes people stand up, accept the risks or ignore them. These are decisions made by mature people. They are risks necessary to social progress that every social movement takes.
Thank you for reading through the proposal for a 2023 Montreal general rent strike. Here are ways the tenant union suggests in which you can support the work towards a strike:
You can join our tenants’ union in calling for your strike and add your name to the organizations encouraging a Montreal rent strike. To do so, email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Easiest: You can share our Facebook events, especially the upcoming event on “Why & How” to go on rent strike against Bill 31 (Saturday, Aug 19th, 12pm to 2pm). At the moment, our Facebook game could use a boost.
You can join us at our upcoming event on “Why & How” to go on rent strike against Bill 31. It will be at Parc Lafontaine, Saturday, August 19th, from 12pm to 2pm at the corner of Sherbrooke/Panet. There will be a BBQ!
You can hang a banner from your balcony: We have extra banners, email email@example.com to get your hands on one.
You can personally sign the pledge.
Share your events with us and we will share them among our members and strikers and invite them to join. We hope to show up as contingents to the upcoming mobilizations against Bill 31.
The above text is not an official SLAM publication. It is a re-editted letter received by many radical organizations explaining the strike.