temporary & flexible working

Casual assault on higher education

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The creeping marketisation of higher education has had major implications for staff contracts. Xanthe Rose explains the extent of casualised work in the sector.

In April the UCU lecturers’ union published a report revealing that higher education institutions are using casualised contracts to a shocking degree. The union estimates that 54 percent of all academic staff and 49 percent of all academic teaching staff are on insecure contracts. That includes staff on hourly-paid, zero-hours and fixed-term contracts, as well as agency workers.

Casual assault on higher education workers

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SOAS fractionals campaign

The creeping marketisation of higher education has had major implications for staff contracts. Xanthe Rose explains the extent of casualised work in the sector.

In April the UCU published a report revealing that higher education institutions are using casualised contracts to a shocking degree. The union estimates that 54 percent of all academic staff and 49 percent of all academic teaching staff are on insecure contracts. That includes staff on hourly-paid, zero-hours and fixed-term contracts, as well as agency workers.

Different aspirations

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Class is often the missing element in politics, and when it is raised, it is in terms of suffering or aspiration, rather than power.

A quarter of a century ago socialist journalist Paul Foot observed, “When the Labour Party was first formed, and had to win votes from the Liberals, politics for Labour Party people was saying what you believed and persuading people to vote for it. Today, stricken by psephology, politics for Labour is finding out what most people believe and pretending to agree with them.”

The growth of outsourcing

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The effective privatisation of public sector jobs can be resisted by shop floor militancy.

Like many of the aspects of contemporary capitalism that we have come to hate, the vogue for outsourcing in Britain first gained ground under the Thatcher government.

In 1988, after privatising British Gas and British Telecom, the Tories passed a law subjecting local authority services to "compulsory competitive tendering" or CCT.

Since then the jargon has changed - the current buzzword is "procurement" - but this type of business activity has mushroomed, spawning companies such as Capita and providing markets for existing firms such as Serco.

Resisting the outsourcing giants

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Has the outsourcing of groups of workers limited their ability to fight back? Ian Taylor looks at recent strikes that challenge this claim, while Kevin Devine looks at the growth of outsourcing.

Outsourcing need not end workers' power to resist their employer. Strikes by three groups in the last three months - cleaners at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, ancillary workers at Ealing Hospital, London, and Care UK workers in Doncaster - make that clear.

Cleaners at SOAS won improved holidays, sick pay and pensions after taking on multinational ISS, one of the world's biggest employers.

The group of mainly migrant workers struck for three days in March after a long campaign for parity with in-house workers.

Work contracts: a zero-sum game

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Labour leader Ed Miliband has repeatedly pledged to end "exploitative" zero-hours contracts. We can safely assume that he does not plan to abolish exploitation in a Marxist sense - the pumping of unpaid labour out of one class by another.

To oppose such exploitation would be to oppose capitalist profit-making full stop.

Nonetheless, the pledge reflects Labour's recognition that many people suffer or fear suffering uncertainty in their working life, an issue that zero-hours contracts have come to symbolise.

Union free school no more

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The strike at STEM6 Academy in north London against zero hours contracts and for union recognition shows that if you get organised and fight hard you can win.

Early in October 2013 a message arrived at the Islington NUT office from a teacher at the newly opened STEM6 Academy telling us that she had never been a union rep before and asking for our support in negotiating teachers' terms and conditions.

The three months which followed saw her lead an often bitter fight which, although taking place in a small workplace, has won a big victory with major implications for other free schools, as well as important lessons for workers facing nasty anti-union employers.

Taste of victory

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Zero hours contracts have become a symbol of austerity Britain. Workers at the Hovis bakery in Wigan have shown how they can be beaten.

Bosses have been using the recession to impose so-called "zero-hour" contracts. These contracts allow employers to hire temporary workers on a short term basis, with no guarantee of further work, at lower wages and worse conditions.

According to government figures there are some 200,000 people on these contracts. Zero-hour contracts have spread to the health service and colleges, as well as the high street. These contracts are a direct attack on workers' pay and conditions, and contrary to popular belief, are not simply in workplaces with low union organisation.

Zero security?

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There are two conflicting accounts of what has happened in the labour market since the onset of the Great Recession. It will amaze Socialist Review readers but there is a story doing the rounds that we are in the middle of a "jobs boom".

From FT journalists to government statisticians there is a view that employment levels are now higher than at any time since the collapse of Lehman Brothers. They claim that 584,000 jobs were created in 2012 and that unemployment is 7.5 percent, which some have called the "productivity paradox" while others inelegantly describe this as "growthless jobification". They even go on to say that the shape of the UK labour market is changing, led by professional occupations, including lawyers, accountants and, heaven help us, management consultants.

Is there a precariat?

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In recent times some have suggested that we have witnessed the rise of the "precariat". This new class of workers, who endure insecure conditions and low wages, are thought to have different interests to organised workers and little use for trade unions. Esme Choonara disagrees

Four years ago McDonald's attempted, unsuccessfully, to have the term "McJobs" removed from dictionaries. They were annoyed that McJobs were seen by so many as epitomising the main sort of work on offer, especially for young people: low-paid, low-skilled service sector work, often short term and with very little prospects.

Many now feel that the economic landscape is now dominated by McJobs and growing job insecurity. The growth of agency work, outsourcing and privatisation, coupled with growing job losses, has also added to a feeling that there are no decent permanent jobs left.

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