Striking Success – a view on industrial action in education by a comrade in the Midlands – Nov 2014

Striking Success

a view on industrial action in education by a comrade in the Midlands – November 2014

Exploitation in the workplace is the norm. We expect it. We often tolerate it far more than we ought to. Perhaps those of us working in precarious jobs are exploited more blatantly than most – as a PhD student doing ‘bought-in teaching’ for the university, that was certainly my experience. But, when 6 of us got together to do something about it, we were very successful in improving our lot. I think it’s worth writing about it here to let others know that even in the most exploited jobs there is still scope for effective collective action. We do have some power, despite everything.

First off I should briefly explain our working conditions, and what being a ‘bought-in teacher’ means. We were contracted for 3 hours per class (including preparation and marking time), taking one class per week. This, we were told, was a generous offer, since most other departments only give 2 hours per class, or less. The (admittedly decent) rate of pay was £22.05 per hour – but this ‘rolled in’ our holiday pay, which is a very dodgy practice. The contract also stipulated that we would never do more than 6 hours per week, and indeed that we didn’t have to take any work whatsoever – but neither was the university obliged to offer us work. This is similar to a zero hours contract. But being ‘bought-in’ also carries the condition that each period of work is ‘mutually exclusive’, meaning that between classes we were not employed by the university – effectively taking away workers’ rights and benefits (such as sick pay). This is what makes the role of bought-in teacher such a precarious one – no job security whatsoever. And yet, this is the industry standard across higher education at the moment!

It became immediately apparent that the 3 hours contracted to us was woefully inadequate. It was worse for colleagues working in a second language – the time they spent on preparation and marking meant that their rate of pay fell below the national minimum wage! We raised this with our module convenor (who was totally pathetic!) before taking it to our Head of Department. We were just fobbed-off with sympathetic head-nodding and evasive platitudes. It was out of their hands, apparently, and something that was university policy across all departments, and across all universities. We were also informed that the rate of pay meant that we were implicitly expected to be working more than the 3 hours allotted (?!). We were also reminded that we were being given teaching experience which would be essential for our CVs and future job prospects, which suggested that, rather than us doing essential work, the university were somehow doing us a favour! Despite our complaints, nothing was done. Any PhD students doing teaching work will no doubt be familiar with this situation.

But that wasn’t an end to it. One morning we received an e-mail from the module convenor instructing us to come in the next day to pick up exam scripts for marking – unpaid! This had not been part of our contract, and we had been assured repeatedly that we would not be doing exam marking. That was the final straw, our good will and patience was exhausted, and we were all, quite rightly, livid. I typed up a joint statement from the 6 bought-in teachers, explaining our long running grievances, and our objection to this latest affront. I initially expected to be reined-in by my colleagues as demanding too much, or being too confrontational. The opposite was the case. They wanted extra things added in. They demanded more. It was fantastic! We demanded the £22.05 per hour rate of pay for marking and insisted on a set work-rate. If we didn’t receive these conditions, we wouldn’t be doing the work. This was a ‘wildcat strike’, in that we had organised the action ourselves, rather than appeal to the bureaucratically sluggish Universities and Colleges Union (UCU). We did speak with our departmental UCU representative about our grievances, and they were extremely supportive. But going through the union would have been slow and, ultimately, ineffective. We presented our joint statement to our module convenor, when they had been expecting us to pick up exam scripts. The only role of the convenor should have been to pass on our grievances and demands to the Head of Department. Instead, they tried to argue in defence of the entire neo-liberal education edifice, and told us, in the most patronising terms, to get on with it. This unsavoury individual succeeded in making us even more pissed off than we had been before. By the time they had thought to try some ‘divide and rule’ tactics by offering us slightly reduced workloads individually, it was too late. We were united – and that was important.

Within 2 days all of our demands were met in full. Success! Exam marking is an issue that the university are very fragile around. If they fail to supply grades to students on time they are in serious trouble, particularly with the new ‘student-as-consumer’ £9,000 a year fees mentality. It’s all about student satisfaction scores and league tables – any threat to that is taken very seriously indeed. And that is where our power lay in this situation. We do the skilled work of marking, without us it just wouldn’t get done! By sticking together as a group and presenting a united front we were able to improve our conditions. The Head of Department tried to insist that our success couldn’t set a precedent for future employment contracts, but how can it fail to? If departments aren’t willing to offer PhD students fair contracts, to pay them for the work they actually do, as opposed to some ‘implicit’ token, then the precedent IS set. Organise together and withdraw your labour power. They rely on our labour, and they rely on our desperation for CV embellishing work experience to force us to accept exploitative conditions. We don’t have to put up with it!

P.H. Dee

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Bread and Roses weekend in Nottingham 21-23 Nov 2014 including talk on Anarchism

At the Bread and Roses weekend (21-23 November 2014), organised by Nottingham’s Five Leaves bookshop, on 23rd November at 3-4pm, Ruth Kinna from Loughborough University will talk about anarchism related to her published books. The event is at Nottingham Writers Studio and is free, but should be prebooked. Other events include anti-capitalist roadshow, a session on “why workers lost their power and how to get it back” and on squatting/counter culture in the 1960s.
The full programme is on or just click the Bread and Roses link above.
Note: you will many books, magazines and pamphlet on anarchism including the latest publisher’s titles at the Sparrows’ Nest library and archive in St. Anns.

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AF leaflet on the TUC demo in London – 18th October 2014

We need a lot more than a pay rise

“Hardworking workers who work hard at work.” That’s all we hear about from politicians – Labour, Tory or LibDem (remember them?). But the attack on our living standards goes way beyond the workplace. There’s the bedroom tax and benefit cuts for a start. We need a lot more than a pay rise. And focusing on wages ignores the attacks on those who can’t work, or whose work is unpaid.

The social wage – benefits, pensions, the NHS – is under attack like never before. Last year, food banks provided 20 million meals – 54% up on 2012. The situation is obviously desperate. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, sixty per cent of planned cuts have yet to be implemented and the situation will get a lot worse over the next few years.

A to B to where?

So here we are again, on another A to B march. It’s always good to remind yourself that you’re not alone in opposing cuts and attacks on living standards. But ask yourself, did any of the previous A to B marches change anything? The million strong demo in 2003, did it stop the illegal war on Iraq? Did the huge demonstrations in March 2011 and October 2012 stop the cuts? Did they hell! No, in all instances, government carried on as before.

What is needed is imaginative action at local and national level. Action like the mums from Focus E15, who have fought displacement and eviction, stood up to their Labour council, and shown what can be done by ordinary people if we stick together and fight to win.

This will mean blockades, occupations and other forms of direct action. It will mean building campaigns and movements where decisions are not made by leaders or celebrities but by the people affected. It means making links with other people fighting cuts in their areas. But more than anything else, it means getting stuck in and not relying on politicians and leaders to do it for us.

Printed and published by Anarchist Federation (London) BM ANARFED LONDON WC1N 3XX london [at]

* for more about the E15 Mothers, see: (last article)

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Brand new publications from the AF for October 2014 – available in print and online

Here is info about brand new publications from the AF. You can also get any of these at The Sparrows’ Nest right here in Nottingham.
[Note: As well as our own publications we have contributed articles to the latest Black Flag magazine and Freedom paper (the latter having gone online only from now on).]

We are pleased to announce a 12-page issue of our paper Resistance (#157, ANGRY WOMEN WIN) for October 2014 and we also have a brand new Organise! magazine – issue 83 Winter 2014, plus a new edition of our pamphlet Basic Bakunin.

Resistance #157 and Basic Bakunin are free downloads (or to order in print) and Organise! is currently available as a single issue or annual subscription in print direct from us and is also available, as usual, from the AK Press and Active Distribution online shops.

Get Organise! 83 now from Active Distribution: (you can also order the latest issue of Black Flag: ).

Bulk orders are available – email distribution [at] for details. Please note we have suspended new subscriptions to Resistance due to our move to larger but irregular themed issues (we have written to all current subscribers about this change).

See below on the home page for full details, or use the above links in the ‘Publications’ menu on the AFED site.

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Global uprisings and the role of anarchists – speaker at The Sparrows’ Nest, Nottingham – 21st October, 7pm

This is a unique opportunity to hear from an activist from the Balkans who has been on a speaking tour about Central European and Balkan uprisings from an anarchist perspective. She was at the recent Balkan anarchist bookfair event in Bosnia and is in a position to talk more generally about the latest developments in the region.

Full title of meeting: Global uprisings and the role of anarchists: examples from Slovenia, Bosnia and Ukraine

Venue: The Sparrows’ Nest.

Date: Tuesday 21st October 2014.

Time: Starts 7pm (ends 9pm approx.)

We would appreciate an indication of numbers so please email in advance to say you are coming (or if you need directions), but equally just turn up (email address & phone no. via the Nest website below).

Note also: the meeting takes place following the London Anarchist Bookfair and the AFem2014 anarcha-feminist conference so we will have a lot of new goodies and information to share!

If you would rather read this on The Sparrows’ Nest website, please see:
Visit the Sparrows’ Nest website:


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Ex-libris Mega Charity Booksale in Carlton, Nottingham – weekend of September 12-14th

This year the Ex-libris 8th annual mega-booksale (Carlton, Nottingham) will be on Friday-Sunday September 12th – 14th, running from 11.00 am to 7.00 pm on all days. Books, refreshments, masks…

All details here:

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Not far away – Sheffield Anarchist Bookfair next Saturday 12th July 2014, from 10am

Come to the Sheffield Anarchist Bookfair

Here’s a great chance to get hold of the latest anarchist lit or older stuff, visit campaign & organisational stalls (including Anarchist Federation, Afem2014 & The Sparrows’ Nest library) or attend/participate in discussions and educational workshops.
Whether you are new to anarchism & looking to find out more, are a long-in-the tooth activist, or just want to find an inspiring book, this is place to be on Saturday. After closing time, the bookfair carries on into the evening with a social event.

More details:

Date/time/venue (very close to the train station, in an independent cinema complex):
Saturday 12th July 10am-6pm
at Showroom Workstation
15 Paternoster Row, Sheffield, South Yorkshire S1 2BX
(Tel: 0114 2757727)

Full workshop programme now online (starts 11am):

The Sheffield Anarchist Book Fair is a free event organised by local activists and volunteers.
Each year, the book fair brings together over 50 radical booksellers, distributors, independent presses, and political groups from around the country, and features books, pamphlets, zines, art, crafts and films. It includes speakers, panels and workshops, and is followed by an evening social. Check out Facebook page for ongoing events leading up to the weekend:

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