On Saturday, 14.10 the Tech Workers Coalition held a conference open to tech workers across Berlin. A large proportion of the attendees were non-German, and there was a strong thematic emphasis on the importance of transnational organizing in labor as well as in housing.
Right to the City – the English speaking working group of the Deutsche Wohnen & Co. Enteignen campaign – was invited to facilitate a workshop meant to build coalitions between migrants in Berlin’s tech industry and tenant organizers.
Naturally, the two groups overlap: R2C was formed early on in the DWE campaign when it became clear that migrant tenants faced particular forms of exploitation as renters. They are often on newer contracts, and landlords routinely take advantage of their non-Germanness – charging them well above market rates and getting away with other illegal tactics. Because migrants often do not have the same level of German and lack both networks and resources, they are less able to challenge these conditions or to be aware of their systemic nature.
This trend has a ripple effect, impacting every renter in the city. Whereas narratives abound that migrants are the gentrifiers, the workshop participants – which included non-Germans and Germans – had critical discussions about these stories. The outcome was that together they challenged the simplistic myth that migrants are the driving force of gentrification in Berlin rather than often being caught up in its effects themselves. Instead, the groups highlighted the parasitic role of the rentier class and financialization of the housing market as the underlying forces driving the housing crisis in Berlin.
Other topics discussed in the workshop included that the referendum campaign was in part stymied due to the fact that non-German citizens can’t vote. This is an important issue because it also sheds light on Germany’s democratic deficit. As it stands, nearly 25% of the city’s population holds non-German passports and therefore cannot participate in the referendum. In the workshop, participants asked what the point of R2C’s involvement in the campaign is, and we (R2C) discussed how we still have the capacity to achieve a successful outcome by organizing and by shedding light on the issue of our disenfranchisement. In fact, the latter is something that R2C has already helped bring across the German media since the formation of our working group.
While some doubts may have arisen during the workshop, such questions also presented an opportunity for us to emphasize the agency that migrants have to shape the referendum result. We discussed strategies for coalition-building between labor and tenant organizers, whilst participants thought of ways to bring Enteignen conversations into their workplaces. Also discussed was the role of works councils – not only for negotiating rights at the office, but for encouraging involvement in DWE as well.
Ultimately, the workshop generated a lot of interest in the capacities of tech workers to use their unique skills to expand tenant rights and participate in the DWE Enteignen campaign. Tech workers are already armed with coding knowledge, data analytics skills, the capacity to provide multilingual translations. All of which are now being mobilized towards furthering current R2C initiatives, as a number of workshop participants have signed up to get involved in our org.
The sentiment at the end of this workshop was hopeful, and we’ve already seen familiar faces at R2C meetings since then. The antidote to the scourge of gentrification, labor exploitation, and discrimination against migrants is building solidarity across differences, shedding light on these concerns, and doing whatever we can to be consciously engaged in shaping the city in line with the will of everyday people who live here. These themes were prevalent throughout the broader TWC conference as well – again shedding light on the interrelatedness between tenant and labor rights.