Tag Archives: education

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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Interview with a striking lecturer

I interviewed Bruce, a lecturer in Economics at Trent University to get a better idea of what the dispute was about. I think it’s fair to say that Bruce’s views are closer to  social democracy than our own, none the less we think it gives valuable insight both to what is happening at the university and across the sector.

The views expresses are the interviewees own, rather than the view of the anarchist federation. The interview was conducted in order to try and get an idea of the situation at hand.

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The Lecturers Strike Back

Members of Nottingham AF today were down on the picket lines at Nottingham and Trent universities, as lecturers on strike and as students and fellow workers showing their support. This was following UCU members decision to come out on strike.

Where the needs of capital  and the needs of us as workers clash, as they always will, we always support workers in their choice to withdraw their labour. A strike is where the implicit tensions between us and them become explicit, where class tensions fissure and manifest themselves. We will support workers who choose this course of action, both inside and outside the union form, where the terms and conditions and wages won by them and generations before them are under threat. Solidarity is our strongest weapon and where there are strikes they should be supported to help people recognise their shared interests.

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Nottingham Against Austerity

Sorry we’ve been away for a while! Since publishing Organise! # 75 and Resistance #127 nationally, as the AF’s first major statements on what lay ahead for the working class under the ConDems, we haven’t paused for breath, to tell you the truth. Here’s a little of what’s been going on…

Where to start? Let’s start with the students!

Last week on Tuesday 30th November, 150 students began an occupation at the University of Nottingham in the Great Hall of the Trent Building. The demands of Nottingham Students Against Cuts and Fees are those of thousands of students occupying universities throughout Britain: scrap the fees and stop the cuts, because we simply don’t believe that there is no alternative.

On Friday 3rd December the occupation was temporarily suspended after the Vice Chancellor Professor Peter Greenaway climbed down and agreed to debate with students in a public meeting that took place tonight (Monday 6th December). This is the first time that senior management at the university has been forced to take the students demands about fees and cuts seriously.The meeting was controversial in that only people who could produce University of Nottingham I.D. were allowed in by the university security. As students speaking from the floor pointed out, it is sixth form and college students who will be affected by the increase in top-up fees, and they should be allowed to have their say. Still, the UoN students put forward the views of the younger students who had come to support the occupation.

The V.C. said that he believes that Higher Education is a privilege, not a right. There isn’t enough money to pay for teaching it anymore, he also said, and so the people who will benefit from their own education have to pay for it themselves. He seemed to think that the students would disagree with his opinion, which they certainly did, but they also made it very clear that he was seriously missing the point. Education, to these students, is not primarily about how much they will earn in future; it is about engaging critically with the world, working out how it works and how to challenge it; it’s also about aspiring to work in notoriously low paid sectors, to do socially beneficial work. Several students were quite insulted about his assumption that we all want to get rich!

Another way in which Greenaway badly missed the point was in stressing several times that if Labour were in power, they’d be doing pretty much the same thing as the Tories and Lib Dems; also, that we already had top-up fees anyway, which were introduced by Labour! Er…we know that! Did he really think he had a couple of hundred Labour voters in sitting in front of him, blissfully unaware of what has been going on these past years? In fact, not one single student responded to vindicate Blair and Brown and, as one pointed out, the fact that they all have the same policy is why nobody bothers to vote!

These students refuse to believe that what is taking place is anything other than ideological; the turning over of education to neo-Liberal values and with instrumentalist aims for those entering it. This recession is a gift to the market. The students challenged the university management to stand up for education rather than for the market, although without illusions that it will. The V.C. in fact made it clear that, as he put it, “the die is cast”, and we just have to accept it.

Time to wake up and smell the coffee, Professor Greenaway!  These students aren’t the ones who will suffer if top up fees reach £6,000 or £9,000. They are taking action for tomorrow’s would-be students. M.P.s who think that voting this crap through on Thursday 9th will sort things out once and for all, should be shaking in their boots. In Nottingham and nationally, the students are not going away. It’ll take more than the conveniently-timed end of term the next day to keep this lot distracted. They are self-organised, autonomous, motivated by a passion for social justice, and they are really fucking pissed off with people like you!

Prof. Greenaway, by your own admission you had access to a full-fees and maintenance grant, and you also had dole and housing benefit payments in the holidays when you were a student in Liverpool in the 1970s. Who are you to deny an education to people committed to funding themselves but not to lining bankers’ pockets? Who are you to threaten and cut jobs of staff through UoN’s trendy new ‘all in it together’ drive for austerity? Universities are supposed to be places where ideas are tested and contested. While you’re mulling it over Prof., and considering whether the students might have a point, think on to when the university will be re-occupied after the holiday! Have some respect for the students please, and this time  turn the heating and the internet in the Great Hall back on! You petty people are bosses and bullies, not educators.

Brilliantly, almost the first thing NSACF did was link up with the more Nottingham city-focussed campaigns at Nottingham Trent (previously with even less of a tradition of radicalism than UoN, if that’s possible), local FE college and sixth-form students, and even school kids themselves, the ones who all this is really about. These younger students are angry at threats to EMA. The Trent and F.E. students had called a demo in the Square and a march on Saturday 4th December, the perfect antidote to the sleet and slush, and the newly liberated UoN students turned up in force too.

The march joined up with the local campaign shaming Vodaphone and other massive tax-dodgers for one of the funniest ‘roaming demos’ we’ve been on in ages. Actually the static Vodaphone demo itself was excruciating in the extreme. We in the AF seem to have developed a speech impediment which won’t let us chant “They say Cut Back; We say Pay Tax”, even though we really want to be non-sectarian at the moment and have a good working relationship with everyone genuinely challenging the cuts. Maybe because that’s one of the most pathetically reformist and misleading slogans we’ve ever heard, and doesn’t genuinely challenge anything. Should we really be making out that if Vodaphone, Boots and Top Shop bosses paid their taxes the ConDems would halt their ideological attack on everyone they didn’t go to Public School with?

Luckily, the mood of the roaming demo itself was very naughty. Students and the rest of us marauded around the Victoria shopping centre for half an hour weaving in and out of the said shops, having a good laugh with shoppers, who definitely got the point, and probably helping out the shoplifters too by attracting all the security to us. Even the cops were laughing! (OK, we don’t want to make them laugh and want them to fuck off, but it was rather funny). The day was rounded off with a student assembly organised by the Trent students, where the amazing events that have recently taken place were analysed by people with all sorts of perspectives, and even better plans were made for the future.

This UoN and Nottingham Trent activity around fees and cuts began a couple of weeks back, but it hasn’t been the only action in the city. Nottingham Claimants’ Action has been formed, there’s a Sneinton Against the Cuts group, an Anarchists Against the Cuts and a really important campaign to save ESOL provision (English for Speakers of a Foreign Langauge).

But the biggest show in town is Notts. Save Our Services. This can tell its own story, with its extensive website being updated several times a day to bring information about its own and everyone else’s activity together. The highlight so far is the 1,100-strong demonstration in the city on November 20th and there’s a county-wide conference planned for January 15th. See its latest newsletter

Finally, the Tory-led County Council is embracing the cuts like they are a long-lost child, and made it plain as soon as they got their majority that they don’t give a shit about anyone else. But the Labour-led City Council have embarked on slashing jobs and services too, with shocking compliancy, apparently believing that everyone would buy that we are ‘all in this together’. Their first response to being challenged NOT to make cuts was to whine that it was illegal and that if they set a deficit budget they’d be taken to court. We said “So fucking what if you lose your houses and cars rather than of making thousands jobless, homeless and without support?” Now it turns out that legally they wouldn’t even face that!

Some Labour loyalists still don’t see that the Labour, Tory and Lib Dem councillors are pretty much as bad as each other when it comes down to it, except that the former are cowards into the bargain. They insist on playing down what JoCo & Co. are up to, as though it wasn’t as bad as Cutts & Co. Given that Notts AF all live and work in areas where it is Labour councillors who are calling the shots, we pledge to be the scourge of the Labour Group from here on….Just watch this space…and many others!

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Mr. Worley shows he’s got…courage.

It’s not often we find ourselves applauding members of the educational establishment. Anarchists reject authoritarian and hierarchical approaches to education. Children can learn loads of useful, interesting and fun stuff at school. But at their worst, the places crush individuality and imagination. One of their functions, after all, is to train our kids to respect the state and capitalist values, and not to question the system when things go wrong.
So imagine our surprise to find that our neighbour Mr. Worley, Head Teacher of Sycamore Primary School in St. Ann’s, is setting up an after school football club called “Balls to Poverty.” Our sentiments exactly! Maybe he’d like some anarchists on his board of governers.”

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