Tenant Unionism is the remedy to the Ills of our Cities and our Organization: A Prescription for TCDSA




1. The Diagnosis

We’re at a terrifying and tumultuous crossroads in history. The contradictions in capitalism have become more visible and harmful to us all in recent years. Between 36%-56% of American families have trouble meeting their basic needs each month (depending how you split the data, from US Census Household Pulse Survey Data 2024). If you’re disabled, it’s gotten much harder to live on social security. The greatest victories for normal people have come in labor victories, when workers have overcome the overwhelming power of the bosses and the many restrictions set on union activity by the state.

In political victories, like St. Paul’s strong rent stabilization referendum, and last year’s Uber-Lyft driver’s bill, regulatory capture has shown its ugly head. Despite a public mandate, five city counselors voted to gut our rent stabilization law, creating numerous loopholes (St. Paulites Agree Housing is a Human Right 2022). Of those who sided with developers, caving to developers’ threat to go on capital strike leaving us without any new housing, only one, Council Member Rebecca Noecker, ran for re-election. At the state level, Gov. Tim Walz trotted out his veto at the behest of Uber and Lyft, stopping the exceptional bill that would have given drivers the rights Uber and Lyft have taken away by skirting market regulation.

In the meantime, we’re looking at a federal election for president that has huge potential to come with electioneering violence, a favorite tactic of the Trump camp. The US is funding a genocide in Gaza, with our taxes going directly to bombs and munitions used on civilians and aide workers. When we raise our voices to electeds, we are ignored. It seems like democracy is broken. Apparently immune to international outcry, Israel’s neo-fascist Prime Minister Netanyahu is jousting with Iran. And the federal election will give us two incredibly distasteful choices.

In many of our lives, basic needs have become harder to afford. Those who aren’t in highly paid professions often fall deeper into debt. Many of us are cost burdened on our rent.

TCDSA has become a force in local politics, but we’ve also struggled to overcome a problem of organizer burnout and the classic leftist trap of infighting. Our growth and self-governance abilities leave a lot to be desired. We can’t yet maintain or support a leftist ecosystem to help workers survive and thrive. We struggle to find alignment and to choose and move forward on specific strategies. Instead, we seem to be a bunch of leftists struggling to organize while reproducing the same things that burn us out about our day-to-day jobs. We remain overwhelmingly white and educated, and have limited opportunities for new members to plug in, making it easy to understand why we’ve failed to grow beyond our 2020 peak of nearly 2000 members. 

2. The Remedy

We have one solution to all the problems facing us and the world. Solidarity with and organizing with the whole of the multiracial working class for immediate material gains. We can organize for immediate, material gains for our fellow workers in two key ways: in the workplace and around key commodities human’s need to survive and live well, like the home and food. If you work in a higher-paid profession where it may be harder to organize in the workplace, tenant unionism may be the perfect place for you to find solidarity with your fellow workers. Fewer and fewer of us can rely on having a roof over our heads.

In time, we need to convince all of our neighbors that individual human needs are inalienable; property rights are not. A right to a home is incompatible with unlimited profit for Blackstone and Blackrock. Financialization of housing has made housing as a commodity incredibly profitable. It also is the key reason millions of people live rough, with no home. The threat of homelessness keeps many of us trapped in miserable, dead-end, un-unionized labor.

As reported by “Make the Shift” an organization advancing housing as a human right in the face of a global housing crisis: “exponential growth of the financialization of housing, particularly since the Global Financial Crisis has turned real estate into arguably the largest business in the world, valued at US $280.6 trillion, with residential real estate making up by far the largest portion of this, at US $220.6 trillion as of the end of 2017.” And the United States has cleverly made many Americans cheer on rising housing prices; with most of our retirements tied to our home values, middle class Americans have been convinced rising housing prices are inevitable or even good. That wealth was created by the work of the exploited global working class, and by commodifying one of our most basic needs. 

Of course, when our food systems break down from the cascading mass extinction we are continuing to cause via the global climate and ecological disaster, having a high net worth will not help you nearly as much as having a well-fed, well-resourced, inter-connected neighborhood with solidarity across race, class, and gender lines.

3. Specific Prescriptions: 

We can prepare ourselves for the tumult to come in November, and in the future years of global ecological collapse, in two key ways. We must study how to self-govern, resolve disputes, and get along with one another, and we must a culture of tenant unionism. 

On April 14, TCDSA had its first Nonviolent Communication training. Nonviolent Communication and Sociocracy are two of many systems for resolving disputes and improving interpersonal effectiveness. Sociocracy specifically puts consensus above voting–a critical step to move away from domination systems like Robert’s Rules, which let’s be real, are alienating to almost all of us. 

Most importantly though, we must start organizing tenants associations across buildings and blocks, with the end goal of a powerful, independent, cities-wide tenants union. DSA chapters across the country have helped start autonomous tenants unions in their metros. Autonomous tenants unions like Kansas City Tenants build solidarity among people of all types and focus on material wins and material gains for normal people. KC Tenants has inspired me with their recent string of victories, and I’ve been even more inspired by what I’ve heard from Kansas City transplants. According to one comrade, KC Tenants made organizing sustainable for her because it was fun and meaningful–everything that attending your local caucus or winning an electoral victory (like St. Paul’s rent stabilization) just to see your policy gutted isn’t. 

We as a chapter voted overwhelmingly (88.4%) for tenant organizing to be a key chapter priority. Sadly, the tenant organizers in our chapter have stepped back, or are struggling with basic needs and the other challenges of life–so we haven’t been able to start the Twin Cities Tenant Organizing Committee (TCTOC) or better yet, launch a cities-wide Twin Cities Tenants Union. But it’s not too late by any means. A handful of TCDSAers, with help from national ETOC (Emergency Tenant Organizing Committee) mentors have drafted up this loose plan for getting tenant organizing going (Organizing Tenants for Working Class Power: Tenant Organizing Committee Launch Resolution).

Which means it is your lucky day! We need a handful of dedicated socialists to organize the first meeting or two of TCTOC, to recruit from our lefty networks, host a pre-launch meeting, zoom ETOC training, and amp up for the doorknocks and neighborhood tenants rights’ training which will be our bread and butter. If you don’t know how to do these things, that’s okay! National DSA and socialist tenant organizers across the country have been so kind as to provide us an excellent two-day weekend training, and mentorship, to become the most effective tenant organizer you can (ETOC Training Signup: Join the Emergency Tenant Organizing Committee). We will help the tenants organizing projects already going on, and we’ll help form tenants unions or city block housing justice unions in places where homeownership is more common. In the process, we’ll connect closer with neighbors, fellow working-class people who may have different understandings of the world, but all get screwed over by landlords and banks. 

We can transform our neighborhoods to be more resilient and build the base we need to transform our whole cities. Tenant organizing is the path to that, but it must be done independently of nonprofits, who can never be trusted to act solely in the best interest of organized working people. I firmly believe that we can launch an independent, cities-wide tenants union. If we do, that future tenants union could be the fulcrum with which the working class shifts the world.

We can save our cities, TCDSA, and ourselves. Organizing for a right to a home across the metro will hit capital where it hurts, and bring us into solidarity and alignment with our immigrant neighbors, our neighbors of color, and all the workers and normal people who haven’t found their way to TCDSA yet. Tenant unionism is the remedy to the ills of our society and our organization. 

Electoral organizing hasn’t won us much in the way of material gains lately. Don’t stress about the presidential election; instead take a strategic step to strengthen our position regardless of electoral trends. Let’s build a base, build a network, and hit the financial megagiants where it hurts. You know, if financial megagiants could feel things. Since they can’t, it’s all the more reason to move towards putting the human right to housing above the right to endless exploitation via property ownership. With more than 53% of locals believing in human needs over property rights, perhaps we’ll be ready to take drastic steps, like expropriation of rental housing with unethical owners and institutional owners for public and collective ownership. 

We know we have a right to a home. We know the future could be incredibly beautiful. Let’s help our neighbors feel that too. Let’s end our nation’s obsession with property rights, and make the right to a home sacrosanct. Let’s win back our birthright – a safe, healthy, beautiful life on this planet. 

By David A


  1. US Census Household Pulse Survey Data 2024
  2. St. Paulites Agree Housing is a Human Right 2022
  3. Walz vetoes rideshare regulations bill
  4. The Trump world’s assault on the people who administer US elections 
  5. I go crazy every day 
  6. Financialization of Housing. Make the Shift.
  7. Center for Nonviolent Communication 
  8. Sociocracy For All: About 
  9. Organizing Tenants for Working Class Power: Tenant Organizing Committee Launch Resolution
  10. DSA Housing Justice Commission and ETOC