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  • Will Irvine

You Gotta Strike for Your Right To Party


On May 1st, 2024, rent was due for students across the University of Auckland’s catered and non-catered halls of residence. This time, more than 200 students associated with the Students for Fair Rent movement refused to pay, marking the beginning of a rent strike that SFR Chair Matthew Lee says will continue until the University agrees to their demands. 

Universities have long squeezed first-year students as a way of making up costs for their perpetually sinking budgets. The extortion reached a tipping point at UoA last November, when members of SFR met with representatives of the Vice-Chancellor’s office and the Halls of Residence. Lee says the meeting was unsuccessful, with University officials refusing to acknowledge that there was a problem. 

Maybe the Vice-Chancellor was partaking in UoA’s experimental MDMA therapy at the time of the meeting, because a crisis has never been more apparent. In the last two years, rent at Waiparuru Hall has risen $2758, with current weekly rents ranging from $510 to $540 per week. Comparatively, residents at our own Te Puni Village (most of whom are Aucklanders themselves) are paying between $489 and $526 per week. 

University Vice-Chancellor Dawn Fairwater, who earns $755,000 a year, has refused to meet or even communicate with strikers. Lee says the Vice-Chancellor has shown that she “does not see [the rent crisis] as a real problem”, which is symptomatic of her wider refusal to engage with student issues. In fact, it’s a running joke amongst UoA students that nobody knows what the Vice-Chancellor even looks like. 

Despite her unwillingness to engage with strikers or students as a whole, Fairwater was quick to shut down a planned pro-Palestine encampment on the University’s campus, issuing a statement that same day that indicated students would face Police action if they camped overnight. 

The crisis extends beyond domestic first-year students. According to Lee, the strike has widespread support from RAs, who last year had their 25% accommodation discount slashed, and had the terms of their employment agreement renegotiated. RAs at UoA are now significantly worse off, to the point that UoA struggled to meet their RA quota this year, which Lee says poses a real health and safety risk to students. 

Most people view international students as “cash cows”, said Lee. This misconception is disproven by the overwhelming support international students have demonstrated for the strike, which Lee says is encouraged by their inability to access student loans or allowances. 

Despite overwhelming odds, Lee is confident that the strikers will prevail. “The University of Auckland cares deeply about its reputation, probably more than any other university in New Zealand. They won’t do anything to jeopardise their reputation.”

Down here in the Capital, rent strikes are still fresh in the memory. In 2020, first-year students went on rent strike after being forced to pay a weekly $150 fee for halls that they were unable to stay in during the Level 3 lockdown. The strike was successful, with the University backtracking after just a month of missed payments. 

One student at Katharine Jermyn Hall, where students pay $494 in weekly rent, told Salient that making rent is “getting harder as payments continue. Two bands is a substantial amount”. Another said that “before I was choosing I was thinking about the courses, but now that I’m actually here I kind of wish I had thought about the money instead. It’s so much for what it’s worth”. 

Appetite for a similar strike in our own halls seemed mixed. One student remarked that “if lots of other people were doing it, they couldn’t evict the whole hall. If everyone was doing it, I would get amongst it.”

Salient sends solidarity to the strikers in Auckland, and encourages students frustrated with extortionate rents to take matters into their own hands.


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