Campaigning has now begun for elections to the Kings College London Student Union (KCLSU) sabbatical positions. Joe Attard, President of the KCL Marxist Society, is standing for the position of vice president for postgraduate students on an explicitly political and socialist platform. We present here Joe's manifesto. Postgrads and workers: unite and fight!
A vote for Joe is a vote for radical politics and radical change on campus
The current political period has been explosive: between Brexit, Trump, and escalating battles involving Government and the labour movement, the education sector has emerged as a key field of political struggle – in Britain and throughout the world.
Without radical representation, students and educators will continue to suffer cuts, exploitation and abuse. I want to provide that radical representation for postgraduates at King’s.
Experience and pledges
Postgraduate student: Current PhD and former MA student at King’s College London (Film Studies)
Campaigner: Leading organiser of Fair Pay for GTAs, which won postgraduate staff a 20 per cent pay rise for essay marking, double paid preparation time and other reforms to pay, training and representation (amounting to reinvestment of approximately £300,000 by the university).
Student rep: Graduate Teaching Assistant representative for Arts & Humanities, SSPP and Law on King’s Doctoral Student Association (KDSA). All voluntary!
Unionist: Executive on local University and Colleges Union (UCU) branch.
Conference delegate: Attended NUS and UCU conferences last year as an elected delegate.
Socialist: President of the King’s College London Marxist Society.
If I am elected Vice-President Postgraduate, I pledge the following:
To fight against TEF and postgraduate fees: I am committed to winning free education
To lobby King's to cancel postgraduate deposits, which disproportionately target and exploit international students
To continue the struggle for better pay, training and representation for postgraduate staff
To fight privatisation and marketisation at KCL by bringing all postgraduate teaching and payroll services in-house
To establish a Student & Staff Solidarity Council to unify action by ALL students and university workers
To oppose the racist and intrusive PREVENT agenda on campus and beyond
To support Jeremy Corbyn and his vision for a socialist Britain
To pressurise the NUS and UCU to organise with the rest of the labour movement for a general strike that will halt the vicious Tory government in its tracks
To be unashamedly political
The problem of postgraduate representation
Postgraduate students are at a special disadvantage when it comes to their needs and concerns. Taught postgrads' time at university is so brief that they barely have time to register any complaints before they move on, meaning things are allowed to get progressively worse for them.
The pushback against outrageous postgraduate deposits last year, which the College has now agreed to reduce from £1000 to £500, was an inspiring example of the kind of change postgraduates can achieve when they stand up for their interests. However, postgraduate deposits should be scrapped altogether as they are an unreasonable, exclusionary financial burden on postgraduates who already pay thousands of pounds to attend KCL.
This additional expense is especially unfair in the case of international postgraduates, as it must be paid four weeks prior to enrolment, which is often not enough time to confirm loans and other sources of funding. The deposit scheme is incredibly galling for internationals, who are already expected to pay more than domestic students and are generally treated like cash cows by the college.
Meanwhile, postgraduate researchers often fall between the domains of students and staff, which creates unique pressures and anxieties, and exposes us to exploitative working conditions. The way our hours are calculated means that most of us work for less than minimum wage. We are tired, overstretched, and underpaid, which inevitably impacts the quality of teaching we can provide to students.
Been there, done that!
I’ve seen the postgraduate experience at King’s from every angle: as a taught MA student, PhD and teaching assistant, and I am incredibly excited about the prospect of the KCLSU bringing on its first ever paid postgraduate officer; a development that, in my opinion, is long overdue.
To be elected to this position would be an honour, and I believe that my experience and attributes make me well-suited for the role.
We can win if we are willing to fight
Last year I helped lead a campaign group that won Graduate Teaching Assistants (‘GTAs’: PhD students who teach on a casual basis) a raft of reforms, including a 20 per cent pay increase for essay marking, double paid preparation time and an overhaul of training.
This significant victory would not have been achieved without a disciplined campaign team and popular support for a marking boycott (effectively a GTA strike), the threat of which forced the university to bow to our demands.
Our marking boycott received cross-union solidarity from local unionists on the UCU (the academics union) and Unison (for service staff) and achieved one of the biggest victories by aggrieved KCL postgraduates in years.
Take it from me: we can achieve miracles if we unite and make a show of concerted strength. At King’s, postgraduates will only get what they are willing to fight for.
I’m an experienced student rep
Off the back of this campaign, I helped establish (and was elected to) a GTA representative position on the King’s Doctoral Student Association (KDSA), a post I've held throughout this year.
In this capacity, I give postgraduate teachers a voice at the level of senior management – where we are too-often overlooked and condescended to – and help working postgraduates in disputes over teaching, support, pay and treatment.
I was also elected as a delegate to the NUS conference in Brighton last year, where I debated motions relating to pay and treatment for postgraduate staff.
Joint union action is essential for promoting student welfare
For the past year I have represented postgraduate issues on the local UCU branch as an elected executive. I have joined colleagues on picket lines during their pay dispute last year and have passed motions at our AGM supporting the National Student Survey boycott (aimed at sabotaging the Teaching Excellence Framework) and union backing for casualised staff.
As a unionist, I have also offered solidarity to striking cleaners at King’s and super-exploited student nurses, attending a number of pickets and demonstrations. And I continue to oppose the oppressive PREVENT agenda, which victimises students (particularly Muslims, but also political activists) on campus.
Students and university workers are in it together: we must work as one to achieve our goals. For that reason, if I am elected I pledge to establish a KCL Student Staff Solidarity Council, through which KCL workers and students can coordinate and unify action - including strikes, pickets and demonstrations.
Students and education workers cannot afford to be apolitical
Student politics is at a juncture.
On the one hand, there is a growing movement of assertive action against Tory sabotage of the education sector. We have seen this in student/staff occupations, rent strikes, radical action by student medics, the NSS boycott and in growing student support for union activity on campus.
On the other, there are voices calling on student unions to depoliticise, to be ‘reasonable’, and to focus on ‘bread and butter’ student issues (whatever that means) rather than ideological objectives.
Under the present circumstances, this apolitical viewpoint dooms us all.
Capitalism is killing education
The Conservatives have launched an unprecedented attack on the higher education sector: from cuts to student grants and bursaries, to the reactionary Teaching Excellence Framework (which King’s is using as an excuse to hike student fees), to the continuance of PREVENT.
At the same time, the bosses at the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) have overseen a 15 per cent average pay cut for student teachers, mass casualization of the academic workforce and have raised the incomes of senior management.
The Vice-Principal at King’s College London, Ed Byrne, earns £450,000 a year. Meanwhile, postgraduate students (particularly those from abroad) endure eye-watering fees, while postgraduate teachers earn poverty wages despite doing half the teaching on some modules.
Students and workers need to unite and fight against the rotten capitalist system. We must struggle for free education, paid for by the expropriated wealth of the bankers and bosses, and establish a socialist society. This struggle begins on campus and ends in the streets.
For free education and an end to capitalist exploitation: undergrads, postgrads and university workers – let's take it to the Tories!