This week, when activist group Cut the Rent chose to postpone a campus-wide rent strike it had planned for January, it was hard to avoid a feeling of deflation.
Positive energy, it seemed, had been building behind rent strikes for months. The movement’s activists had achieved an awful lot in a short space of time – securing the support of both Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) and the Union of Students in Ireland – and it looked like they were channelling the energy of successes gone by.
But this week they hit the brakes, and it’s not exactly clear why.
Nobody could deny the risks involved with rent strikes – particularly with such a small number signed up. And Cut the Rent activists will no doubt point to the hard work they’ve put in thus far to establish themselves on campus, and to the difficulty of getting something as substantial as a rent strike off the ground.
But that’s precisely the point. There will never be a perfect time to stage a rent strike, and now – after a slew of hard-fought successes in a short space of time – is surely as good a time as there will ever be.
The group has not abandoned rent strikes: its members argue instead that the future, and more intensive planning, may yield a more ripe moment for a strike to take off.
But while postponing rent strikes isn’t the same as cancelling them indefinitely, it irrefutably robs the movement of steam that will be very difficult to recapture.
In student activism, momentum is fleeting. Each year sees some students leaving and others entering, meaning long-term strategies may not be the most effective way to organise. The strength of student actions often lies in bold and rapid action.
And this, until now, was one of Cut the Rent’s biggest strengths. It was not beholden to the staid proceduralism that slowed TCDSU council’s support of the movement. It was vibrant and dynamic, and it was achieving a lot with a little.
Now, though, it has put a pin in the momentum it worked so hard to create.