Over the past few months, CWPUSA militants attempted unsuccessfully to organize former and current residents of ULake Apartments in Tampa, Florida. For the sake of learning and transparency, we must document and journal our experience, for if we can learn from our failures, we will be able to regroup and reformulate our strategy for intervening in the working-class struggle.
This past July, the CWPUSA Central Committee became aware of a group of ULake Apartments tenants attempting to organize other residents against the incompetent and negligent management by Core Spaces, the owning company. Recognizing the potential for revolutionary organization, the CC authorized us to contact these residents, who soon informed us of multiple violations occurring throughout the complex, including black mold growth, insect infestations, and gas leaks. Most recently, a power outage left tenants without air conditioning in sweltering conditions for nearly a week, forcing dozens to vacate the premises and temporarily relocate to hotels or motels. The buildings were constructed in 1980 and acquired by Core Spaces in 2022 from Trinity Property Management. Despite the new management, the same issue persists: profit over the health and safety of residents.
Images. Mold growth in the residences of the tenants of ULake Apartments.
The AC incident also resulted in hundreds of dollars lost in groceries for some tenants, to say nothing of the relocation expenses. Naturally, Core Spaces did not reimburse tenants for these expenses, opting to send out emails claiming they were “not at fault” and “did what they could to repair the situation in time.” Upon further investigation, we discovered that Core Spaces has a history of violations at their properties. Tenants at many of these locations organized similarly in response, most notably the Core Spaces Tenant Association in Isla Vista, California, which successfully formed in response to the threat of mass evictions.
Tenants like these dedicate a significant portion of their free time to battling the predatory advances of the landlords and property management companies while resisting the overwhelming sense of despair that comes with this barbaric manifestation of capitalist society. They represent the foundation of the tenants’ movement. We could never achieve any progress without their dedication and hard work.
Working with the ULake residents, we did what we could to oppose the management, gathering signatures for an open letter and assembling outside the management office. The letter, written by an enraged tenant, described the treatment of tenants as “disturbing and disrespectful,” citing predatory rent increases, the multiple gas leak crises, and a lack of hot water as just a few of the grievances they have endured. However, the final letter read more like a letter of complaint than a call for action, failing to put forward any substantial demands that would benefit the tenants in the long run.
We also encountered a setback in that most of the tenants, if not all, were immunocompromised to some degree. Consequently, they struggled with the physical work necessary for organizing, such as walking when door-knocking and speaking directly with residents.
Regrettably, due to worsening living conditions, lack of constructive recourse, and an overall decline in the health and safety of tenants, the militants were all gradually forced to abandon their initiative and find housing elsewhere, opting to terminate their leases and begin the process of taking legal action against Core Spaces. Though this endeavor yielded unfavorable results, we will take this opportunity to learn from our previous mistakes and reorganize using our newfound understanding of tenant law and tenant organizing.
So, what did we learn? With regards to organizing in general, our experience with the ULake Apartments tenants has taught the following lessons:
- Always strive to take the lead when circumstances demand it. As inexperienced as we were in organizing, the ULake tenants were even more so. Had we taken the initiative, we may have been able to act more quickly and perhaps succeed in establishing a fully functioning tenants’ union.
- Get involved to the greatest possible extent. We hesitated to involve ourselves sufficiently in the organizing efforts and thus failed to confront the reality of the situation, choosing tactfulness over the practical demands of the movement. It would have been better to involve ourselves too much and risk offense than to hold back and risk failure.
- Be a comrade, not an associate. The prevalence of “online organizing” within the modern communist movement has, to some extent, atrophied our ability to form direct, social connections with fellow organizers in favor of distant, casual correspondence. If we want to develop a revolutionary movement, we cannot settle for “acquaintanceships.” We must be able to build and maintain meaningful relationships.
- Teach theory through practice, not separately from it. Based on our experience with other organizations, we have noticed a tendency among some comrades to preach pedantically about Marxism to people without connecting it to their basic needs and the struggle at hand. The idea of the open letter from the tenants was a positive step forward. However, moving ahead, it is crucial that we first identify the issues linking all of the tenants. Then, we should bring these individuals together, form an organizing committee of tenants, gradually introduce them to Marxist ideas through discussions and education, and finally provide a platform for them to formulate demands and support them confidently as part of the CWPUSA. By struggling side-by-side with the tenants, we build the necessary confidence for further sharpening their understanding of the theory of the class struggle.
Regarding tenant organizing specifically, we learned a few facts that are worth mentioning here:
- Evictions take time. If someone you know is at risk of eviction, use that time to get them organized.
- If you pay rent, you are a tenant, with or without a lease.
- You have no legal obligation to speak honestly, or at all, with a landlord or their employees.
- A tenant speaking with another tenant is not a form of solicitation.
As for any future opportunities we encounter for getting tenants organized, we have come up with the following plan of action to help guide our activity:
- Identify all radicalized tenants, meet with them to discuss the idea of a tenants’ union, and, if they are receptive, begin fostering a militant stance within them.
- Organize the militant tenants into a group and start holding regular meetings to discuss the details of tenant organizing and formulate plans for future actions.
- Gather the contact info of the group members (be careful with personal information!) and connect them with any known tenant, labor, or other popular groups to develop a network of organizing contacts.
- Once everyone is ready to start organizing, establish the group as an official tenants’ union and prepare a list of demands for the landlord.
- Expand or alter this plan as necessary.
In short, though we failed to organize the tenants at ULake Apartments, our experience in this effort has undoubtedly taught us much. The struggle for tenants’ rights in Tampa remains ongoing, but we return to it more experienced and with a greater understanding of the necessary tasks of our movement.