Germany – Tenants Protest Privatisations in Ruhr District
Date: 2 December, 2004
At November 24 Tenants associations and neighbourhood groups from Bochum, Dortmund, Essen, Gelsenkirchen, Herne, Oberhausen and Witten organized a protest against privatisation of rental housing in Dusseldorf, the capital of the German federal state North-Rhine-Westphalia. 150 representatives gathered in front of the federal parliament claiming for better legal protection of their housing rights, political support for their struggle against the shareholder value orientated sell out of company flats by the Viterra AG and demanded an end of speculation with rental homes of the miners and steel workers in the Ruhr District.
The Viterra AG is one of the largest landlords in Germany. Originally Viterra provided industrial and social housing and low costs for the employees if the coal mines and the steel and chemical industries. Whole neighbourhoods in the Ruhr district are composed by Viterra housing schemes. In the 90ies Viterra stopped any social orientation and developed economical strategies to increase the profits of their share holder, the E.on AG, a multinational energy trust, which nearly has a monopole on the German gas market. Mass sale of rental flats has become the main strategy to multiply the profit rates. The flats gets sold either directly to the tenants or final users themselves or to speculators who as well try to sell the flats to single owners. The flats get sold at market prizes, in the case of a speculative trde even at much more. A main calculation is that the tenants will get in panic, fearing a loss of their homes, and then buy at high prizes. While Viterra meanwhile politically was forced to accept some minimum standards in the case of direct privatisation the speculators often do not care about that at all. Although many of the tenants enjoy legal protection against fast evictions or can count on still existing rights of the industries agents of the speculators try to push them buy telling many lies about their rights and the low coasts of buying. Even the sale of only parts of the housing schemes lead to destruction of given social and urban structures. Colleagues become the landlord of their neighbour: This often breaks the traditional culture of solidarity and equality.
In Dusseldorf the housing speakers of the parliament and the federal housing minister promised to support the demands of the tenants. “Your goals are ours”, they said. “We try what we can. But we have no control over private property.” The tenants coalition called for reforms in national legislation and a federal programme which will enable local authorities to use all given instruments to get public influence on the processes of privatisation.
After these debates the tenants walked along the Rhine to the main office of E.on AG where the accused this corporation to be responsible for expulsions, speculation and unsecurity. They called the board of E.on to come out of their closed office building and directly discuss with the tenants. But all they did was to offer a negotiation of a delegation with one of the representatives of Viterra. The tenants denied to do so, because Viterra only is following the orders of the E.on trust.
E.on plans to sell the rest of Viterra to international investment funds or bring it to the stock exchange within next years. The Viterra Tenants Action Coalition will continue their struggle from the neighbourhood to the political levels.
At November 30 representatives of the tenants movements met with federal housing minister Vesper to discuss further concrete steps in order to improve the situation of the tenants. The meeting focused on possibilities given by specific contracts and legislations for miners’ homes. After the meeting Mr. Vesper again called the landlord corporations to commit themselves to social goals and measures.