Many university students also work in part-time, precarious employment. Reece Goscinski outlines a way forward for resisting the exploitation they face
The business model of education has perverted the values of liberation and empowerment it claims to embody. The system is producing cogs for a machine that is increasingly beyond repair.
Students at colleges and universities, unsure of a future career, are increasingly looking to find work both to subsidise their studies and as a fall back in the event of their future career being denied them.
Students face attacks on all fronts – in debt for their education; exploited by employers who read their economic plight as a business opportunity; milked by private landlords and ignored by politicians.
As a young undergraduate currently going into my second year of university, with an unskilled retail job, I have become crucially aware of these issues. I undertook the role of shop steward in the department store I work at. I am determined to organise a fight back - a key part of this is to get student/workers on the TUC demo on October 20th.
The modern student relies upon paid employment to help fund them through university. With most families struggling to make ends meet, parents are unable to assist their child as much as they previously did.
According to surveys conducted by the National Union of Students, 40% of final year students rely on paid employment to cope with day to day economic struggles - for such simple things as food and rent. A staggering 59% of students rely upon parental support and 29% said that without parental support they wouldn’t be able to attend university.
When these economic worries translate into the workplace, students are anxious and less likely to join trade unions for fear of losing their job. This plays into the hands of their employers. Students are being increasingly categorised by some academics as part of a social class known as the precariat, a condition of existence without security.
Anxiety is a key part of student existence, and flies in the face of the stereotypical image of students as lazy and carefree. Employers know that students can be used as scapegoats for anything that goes wrong. Students face the same disciplinary policies as their co-workers but are much less likely to challenge their managers, for fear of losing their employment. This means that students can be asked to work harder and longer without fear of rebellion.
Organisation is key in addressing this issue. I believe the best way to do this is through the trade union movement. In York I am working with the Student Union and we are planning to hold a workers’ rights awareness day in the college: getting together local trade unions to hold stalls and give talks on basic employment rights and the benefits of joining a union.
Student unions must begin to see their role as protecting students at work as well as in college. The free legal advice many trade unions offer is important in recruitment, but collective organisation that builds on the anger about the injustices is also necessary.
The 20 October TUC demonstration needs to reflect the feelings of the young. After an extensive period where the trade union movement was effectively silenced by the iron hand of Thatcherism, then by the betrayals of New Labour, the movement is beginning to find its voice again. Whether it be making a noise within the Labour party against the internal Blairite pressure group Progress, or assisting in the battle against austerity, trade union organisation is key.
However, the sectional and defensive nature of the unions is a potential shackle on the movement too. The real key to organisation is not the trade union bureaucrat but the angry and confident student/worker. Our education can fuse with a new militancy and we can start lead at the forefront of the struggle instead of being seen as living in a separate sphere of education.
Our future is not for sale and we have to take control of it. All out for 20 October and let’s make the voice of the student/worker the loudest and angriest of all.