GMTU is a democratic, member-led union that works across the ten boroughs of Greater Manchester to tackle the broken housing system that people battle with. The union organises and represents its members in the private and social rented sector and fights for safe, secure and affordable housing for everyone.
Originally a national organisation called Tenants Union UK, the group decided that the most impactful way to create change was to build community power at a local level, and in 2020 became Greater Manchester Tenants Union. In the past two years, GMTU has tackled skyrocketing rents, poor conditions, and renters having to move from their neighbourhoods because of gentrification, precarity and abusive landlords.
Through collective action with its members, GMTU has won substantial payouts from landlords failing in their duties, stopped rent hikes, and resisted evictions. The union has also been involved in a number of campaigns, such as ‘Block the Block’ in Hulme, a group of residents fighting to stop a student accommodation block being built in their local area, and a campaign to Save the Seven Sisters social homes in Rochdale.
GMTU has also partnered with Action on Empty Homes to launch a new campaign calling for Airbnb regulation in England. They are calling for councils in England to be given the power to block homes being converted into short-term rentals, most commonly as Airbnb lets. The campaign wants to see planning reforms, a licensing system and a ‘right to refuse’ new listings.
The union consists of a network of branches including Stockport, Rochdale, Moss Side, Hulme and, most recently, Levenshulme & Longsight. It is funded by its members, who pay a monthly contribution at a rate set by them. GMTU has also received grants from a range of funders including Nationwide Foundation, Fair Housing Futures Test and Learn Fund and the New Economics Foundation.
The union is run by elected committee members, who are supported by a small staff team. Kate Bradley, a member of the newly-established Longsight & Levenshulme branch, says she was drawn to the union’s member-led, democratic approach to organising, and the freedom it gives its members to work collectively towards campaigns.
“I work in housing law at my day job, and I am often horrified by the imbalance of power between tenants and landlords. I don’t think the law alone can protect us from eviction, hardship and unlivable conditions in our homes, so I wanted to fight for better rights and conditions for renters,” said Kate.
“We have an amazingly diverse community, but over the last few years, we have seen long-standing communities being pressured out by the area’s rising prices and estate agents’ insistence that Levenshulme is ‘up and coming’ – something which tends to mean they want to force the prices up and poorer communities out.”
Since Kate’s branch set up in her local area, they have taken on member solidarity cases to stop rent rises, supported people to get repairs done, and helped people understand their housing rights. They have also held public events, including a ‘Know Your Rights’ session as well as contributing to a consultation on landlord licensing planned for the area.
Many tenants around Manchester have been impacted by the resources and help that GMTU offers. GMTU member Callum Harrison told The Meteor that he initially joined the union after hearing about how it has helped a woman get her money back after she was wrongfully charged for a tenancy agreement change.
“When I approached GMTU, it wasn’t to gain help for my own situation, it was to get involved and to learn how they help people,” said Callum
However, after joining the union and speaking with other members about his housing situation, it became clear that he was also being treated unfairly. Callum received support from fellow members, which included drafting a demand letter, resulting in him receiving compensation and the opportunity to leave his tenancy early.
“I would say nearly everyone right now is facing housing issues. If it’s not rent rises, it’s a flat or house in disrepair or a bad landlord. Speaking to people in GMTU and people in my life, everyone has had issues with their house or flat and landlord over the past five years. The housing market is clearly in a mess and so much needs to be done about it.”
Callum’s advice to any new renters is to carefully inspect the state of the accommodation before signing a contract.
“If something goes wrong you want to make sure you’ve covered your back and even if there’s nothing wrong with your flat, join a union – you may need your back covering in the future.”
Although there is still much to do within the housing sector, GMTU have empowered their members to feel like they can have a say in their own living conditions,something renters often feel is impossible when they are trying to sort issues out on their own.
“We can only keep building the strength of the renters’ movement and achieve real change if more tenants get involved in organising themselves,” said Kate. “No matter what kind of tenant you are, we are always happy to welcome new members and you can get involved in a range of activities in a way that suits you.”
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Featured image: Greater Manchester Tenants’Union