What went on in the KCL Rent Strike Open Forum
The event included discussions with committee members and King’s staff and representatives
Over the past few weeks, the KCL Rent Strike campaign has garnered a lot of attention for being part of a collective movement calling for rent rebates and improved student halls experiences. The campaign was featured in a BBC article alongside over 45 other student rent strike groups at universities across the country, with at least 200 King’s students pledging to withhold their rent. On 21st of January, the KCL Rent Strike group held an open forum on Zoom. Read on to learn about what the group discussed, and who was in attendance.
‘With the power of the student body, we want to make active and genuine changes to the lives of students’
Prior to the event, the group announced that both committee members and representatives and staff members at King’s would be in attendance. The meeting began with a KCL Rent Strike Committee member’s introduction, stressing the importance of the campaign: “With the power of the student body, we want to make active and genuine changes to the lives of students.” The guest speakers talked about their own experiences with campaigns, liaising with King’s and tackling management decisions they disagreed with.
‘The college will say there is no money, but there is plenty of money’
One of the forum’s guest speakers was Sita Bilani, a UCU (King’s College London University and College Union) representative. They read out a statement speaking on the solidarity shown by students and staff sympathetic to the campaign. They also spoke about issues regarding money management by the University, citing how £300k was spent on re-branding ‘King’s College London’ to ‘King’s London’ as an example of a project that was eventually dismissed. They then went on to detail the maintenance fees of Bush House, the staple building of Strand Campus, once deemed ‘the most expensive building in the world.’ Sita added their belief that although King’s may deny having the necessary funds to meet the demands of the campaign, examples of past university expenditures prove otherwise, saying that “The college will say there is no money, but there is plenty of money to support campaigns.” Sita concluded by saying it was “disheartening” to see tuition fees not attributed to causes students care about, such as the rent strike.
‘This is a systemic issue within the university, and campaigns need to work together to confront the issue’
Jacob Gracie, another guest speaker, is an active member of the GTA (Graduate Teaching Assistants) campaign. They expressed frustration over the poor working conditions teaching assistants have faced over the years, with issues ranging from being paid less than the minimum wage on some occasions, to carrying out disproportionate amounts of first-year teaching work. They went on to say that mismanagement “…is a systemic issue within the university, and campaigns need to work together to confront the issue.”
‘Do not feel threatened by the university, this is something worth fighting for’
The next guest speaker was Savannah Whaley, another teaching assistant at King’s. They outlined some of the positive changes as a result of the GTA campaign, including that the university has agreed to a standardised contract for teaching assistants (which means an increase in pay and more preparation time for teaching and marking.) Furthermore, an additional pay rise of 30% was offered to all teaching assistants who worked this academic year. They went on to provide information on what makes a successful campaign, discussing negotiating and complying with the university while collecting relevant data, raising awareness and being as vocal as possible on social media.
Savannah also added that “they (King’s) will set up various channels of communications such as liaison groups to discourage campaigners, but the GTA campaign did not hold back,” and even suggested that discussions regarding withdrawing labour and money have proven to be an “effective” tactic. Following on from Jacob’s points, they noted the importance of drawing hope and inspiration from previous rent strike campaigns and urged students to “…not be threatened by the university, this is something worth fighting for.”