The following is a speech I gave to the meeting “Supersize my pay: how young workers in new zealand fought back against mcdonalds, and won”.
In 2005/2006, young, precarious workers employed by the likes of McDonalds, Burger King, Starbucks, Pizza Hut, and KFC organised to take on their bosses over the low pay and exploitation they faced at work. After a campaign of direct action, including the world’s first Starbucks strikes, they succeeded in winning significant pay increases, including the abolition of the youth rates of the minimum wage. How do they do it? And can…we do it here?
Young workers and working students in Britain face many of the same issues, including casualisation and precarious working. Some argue that it’s impossible for workers to organise and fight back in those jobs, but the experience of Supersize My Pay suggests something different. We will be showing a film about the ‘Supersize My pay’ campaign in New Zealand, followed by discussion.
This year, ULU is running a student workers’ campaign to raise awareness of rights in the workplace and help working students organise. Come along to watch the film and discuss the campaign. More info here: http://ulu.co.uk/content/869753/your_union/campaigns/student_rights_at_work_campaign/
ULU is the umbrella body for Student Unions in London. As such it is an important hub for student movement activism. This year I want it to be a hub for labour movement and student-worker activism too.
Over the past decade, the number of students undertaking paid employment during term-time rose by more than 54%. Most of us took jobs in the retail or hospitality sectors – in bars, high-street shops, restaurants, and hotels – where low pay, long hours, and casual exploitation are endemic. When we leave university, those of us lucky enough to get a job at all are more likely than ever to find ourselves in similar workplaces. Over the past five years, the number of new graduates employed in low-paid, “unskilled” or “semi-skilled” jobs has doubled.
The distinction between work and study is being slowly abolished. Huge increases in the cost of education mean we are financially compelled to work to support ourselves through college or university. And when we’re studying, employer and business-control of the content of our courses and our departments’ research priorities means that study itself is increasingly just training for the workplace. Our colleges and universities are becoming, if they aren’t already, conveyor belts into the kind of low-paid jobs most of us already have to take before we even graduate.
That means the student movement has to help us organise for our rights at work, as well as on campus. This year at ULU – and the main reasons for tonight – is that we are working with Student Union and trade union activists across London to launch Student Worker Solidarity, an awareness-raising and organising initiative aimed at helping students know their rights as workers and gain the activist skills needed to organise to fight for change in the workplace.
We’ve put together a pack. This aims to help you begin the process of organising at work. It contains information on your basic rights as a worker, as well as case studies from Britain and around the world where young workers and working students have taken on their bosses and won. It also contains material from trade unions about how to organise, plus useful contacts to help you campaign. (Thank Daniel Randall)
This campaign although new, has some experience. Last year when I was at Royal Holloway we organising the student staff in our students union bar, we self organised around concrete, material issues – your break entitlement, pay. We made the case for trade unionism, recruited to the GMB, organised through a rep strucuture, put together set of demands, published industrial bulletins, held big public meetings and won concessions for staff. We held a national conference on the student worker issue last year too. And there are a number of other campuses that are running similar campaigns, some that are here tonight.
I consider myself to be part of the labour movement and want to develop a wider understanding amongst students that our struggles and those of workers are linked. I am an active member of the GMB, and this year plan to work with the GMB, Unison, and other unions to help working students on University of London campuses organise in their workplaces.
I also want to mobilise students to support workers’ struggles – not just those of workers on our campuses, but wider struggles within London. I want trade union activists in London to see ULU as a space they can use (in terms of booking our facilities for meetings and events) and a point of contact for mobilising solidarity with their disputes.
We share the same struggles with workers, both academic and non-academic, on our campuses. The department closures, course cuts, and outsourcing that affect our education affect their livelihoods. By fighting together, we stand a better chance of winning.
But student-worker unity is not simply a marriage of convenience between two groups with sectional, if overlapping, interests.
Everything that gets produced in our society (from products coming off an assembly line in a factory to train journeys to cleaning services to a lecture) only gets produced because a worker’s labour power produces it. Workers make society move. That means the working class has a unique power to change the way our society functions. That potential applies even if we’re student workers, working part-time in our SU bar.
I think ULU’s campaign can be to mobilise for and support the organising efforts of workers and supporters in workplaces with high numbers of student – workers. For example, if a campus based organising campaign is holding an action (petitioning, leafleting, a demo) ULU’s campaign as being to amplify those actions and mobilise wider support for it.
But ULU’s student worker campaign is not just about helping students link up with campus workers to campaign, or about informing working students about their rights in the workplace, it is about building a political movement amongst students that understands the unique power of working-class struggle.
So – if lecturers or cleaners are on strike on your campus, and you want to know why and how you can support them, this campaign is the place to come. If you’re working a low-paid job (on campus or beyond) and want to know what your rights are and how to organise, this campaign is for you. And if you just want to keep up to date with workers’ struggles across London, this campaign will provide information and resources.