Call for Papers – 100 Years On: Rediscovering the Rent Strikes

Neil Gray (University of Glasgow) and Sarah Glynn (University of Edinburgh) are co-editing a new book about the rent strikes and are seeking chapter proposals. The deadline for abstracts is 30 September 2015.

In this centenary year of the 1915 Glasgow Rent Strikes, we are seeking contributions for a book and associated conference exploring new historical interpretations of the strikes and their relevance for the contemporary ‘housing question’ (Engels, 1942 [1872]; Hodkinson, 2012; Slater, 2013). Economic thinkers as diverse as Ricardo, Marx and Keynes assumed we would see the ‘euthanasia of the rentier’ with the emergence of industrial capitalism. Yet, since the 1970s we have seen a full-fledged comeback and proliferation of forms of rent across the economic spectrum, and in the housing market in particular (Hudson, 2006, 2010; Turner, 2008; Vercellone, 2009; Gray, 2010; Harvey, 2012). As Aalbers and Christophers (2014) contend, the inter-connection between housing and economic growth strategies is now so firmly entrenched that understanding the circulation of capital in the present era necessarily requires an understanding and critique of the political economy of housing.

With Western industry in seemingly terminal decline, housing speculation has become central to capital accumulation strategies, producing nefarious and highly uneven effects: the subprime crisis, housing privatisation, rack-renting, spiralling house prices, mortgage debt, gentrification, foreclosure, eviction, displacement, homelessness, and over-crowding. In this context, resembling nothing so much as the political economy of housing 100 years ago, re-interpreting the 1915 Rent Strikes is an urgent necessity, especially since community struggles over housing and consumption, typically undertaken by impoverished tenants and residents without funding or institutional support, have often been poorly reported and recorded (Moorhouse et al, 1972; Bradley, 1997).

Within the Left, the Rent Strikes have often gained legitimacy through their association with militant labour struggles on Red Clydeside (Castells, 1983; Melling, 1983; Foster, 1990). The threat of wider industrial struggle during wartime undoubtedly forced government intervention, including rent restrictions and the principle of public housing provision (Glynn, 2009; MacLean, 1983). Yet privileging industrial labour at the point of production has tended to subsume the Rent Strikes under ‘the forward march of labour’ (Smyth, 1992), minimising the import of relatively autonomous women-and-community-led composition at the point of reproduction, albeit with the support of a heterogeneous range of political and trade union organisations (Damer, 1980; Smyth, 1992). The continuing relevance of the Rent Strikes for ongoing consumption and social reproduction struggles in a time of industrial decomposition may thus have been obscured by concealed assumptions in the past (Brotherstone, 1992).

With the present housing crisis in mind, we seek chapter contributions of 4,000-6,000 words that facilitate radical re-interpretations of the Rent Strikes (drawing on archive and primary sources) and theoretical re-interpretations of secondary literature with relevance for today’s ‘housing question’. These should be clear, accessible, theoretically and empirically informed papers for a general audience. We expect that these will focus on the 1915 Rent Strikes, or use them as a starting point for discussion and comparative analysis of rent strikes, rent restrictions and the housing question more broadly. We strongly encourage inter-disciplinary work and contributions from beyond the academy. Potential areas of investigation might include, but need not be limited to:

  • The Rent Strikes and class composition
  • The role of women in the Rent Strikes
  • The Rent Strikes and struggles over social reproduction and consumption – then and now
  • The Rent Strikes and female industrial labour/the domestic labour debate
  • The continuity of housing struggles and rent strikes before and after 1915
  • Comparative historical analyses of Rent Strikes in Glasgow
  • Comparative historical analyses of rent strikes in Scotland, the UK, Europe and Worldwide
  • The relation between rent strikes, direct action, and housing reform
  • The Rent Strikes and rent control/rent restrictions
  • The relevance of the Rent Strikes in the context of ‘Generation Rent’, ‘Living Rent’ campaigns and other   contemporary housing struggles
  • Rent strikes and the rentier economy

Please send an abstract chapter proposal of no more than 300 words by Wednesday 30th September 2015. We will respond no later than Friday 9th October. We would prefer that contributors to the book attend a conference in Glasgow on Saturday, November 28th to present a paper version of the chapter, but this is not mandatory.

Please contact Neil Gray ( or Sarah Glynn ( with any enquiries.


Aalbers M and Christophers B (2014) Centring Housing in Political Economy, Housing, Theory and Society, 31(4), 373-394

Bradley Q (1997) The Leeds Rent Strike of 1914: A Reappraisal of the Radical History of the Tenants Movement, Housing Studies HNC Research Project 1997.

Brotherstone T (1992) Does Red Clydeside Really Matter any More? In, Duncan R and McIvor A, eds, Militant Workers: Labour and Class Conflict on the Clyde, 1900-1950: Essays in Honour of Harry McShane, Edinburgh: John Donald Publishers LTD, 52-81

Castells M (1983) Castells M (1983) The City and the Grassroots: A Cross-Cultural Theory of Urban Social Movements, Berkeley: University of California Press, 27-37

Damer S (1980) State, Class and Housing: Glasgow 1885-1919. In, Melling J, ed, Housing, Social Policy and the State, London: Croom Helm

Engels F (1942 [1872]) The Housing Question, London: Lawrence and Wishart

Foster J (1990) Strike Action and Working-Class Politics on Clydeside (1914-1919), International Review of Social History, 35, (1), 33-70

Glynn S (2009) Glynn S (2009) Where the Other Half Lives: Lower Income Housing in a Neoliberal World, London: Pluto Press

Gray N (2010) The Tyranny of Rent, Variant, 37, 37-43

Harvey D (2012) Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution, London: Verso

Hodkinson (2012) The New Urban Enclosures, City, 16(5), 500-518

Hudson M (2006) The New Road to Serfdom: An Illustrated Guide to the Coming Real Estate Collapse, Harper’s Magazine, May

Hudson M (2010) From Marx to Goldman Sachs: The Fictions of Fictitious Capital, and the Financialization of Industry, Critique, 38 (3), 419-444

McLean (1983) The Legend of Red Clydeside, Edinburgh: John Donald Publishes LTD

Melling J (1983) Rent Strikes: Peoples’ Struggle for Housing in West Scotland, 1890-1916, Edinburgh: Polygon Books

Moorhouse B, Wilson M and Chamberlain C (1972) Rent Strikes – Direct Action and the Working Class, Socialist Register, 9(9)

Slater T (2013) Your Life Chances Affect Where you Live: A Critique of the ‘Cottage Industry’ of Neighbourhood Effects Research, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 37(2), 367-387

Smyth J J (1992) Rents, Peace, Votes: Working-class Women and Political Activity in the First World War. In, Breitenbach and Gordon, eds, Out of Bounds: Women in Scottish Society, 1800-1945, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press

Turner G (2008) The Credit Crunch: Housing Bubbles, Globalisation and the Worldwide Economic Crisis, London: Pluto Press

Vercellone C (2009) The Crisis of the Law of Value and the Becoming-Rent of Profit. In, Fumagalli A, Mezzadra S, eds, Crisis in the Global Economy: Financial Markets, Social Struggles, and New Political Scenarios, Semiotext(e), The MIT Press

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *