Candidate for the position of King's Doctoral Student's Association - Graduate Teaching Assistant Rep (Arts and Humanities, SSPP, Law)

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JOSEPH ATTARD

Fair pay for GTAs! Socialism and free education for all!

“I really enjoy teaching and I care about my students, but every week I go into class feeling inadequate. They are paying £9,000 a year and yet I haven't had enough training, or enough paid time to properly prepare lessons. I feel helpless. They are losing out and I am losing out.”

This testimony from an anonymous English department graduate teaching assistant reflects the experience of many Arts and Humanities GTAs at King’s ? including mine (Film Studies).

I have spent the last eighteen months fighting for better treatment for GTAs, both in my capacity as a campaigner and a GTA rep on the UCU executive committee. I have contributed to national anti-casualization campaigns and helped bring this GTA rep position into being ? but it is still not enough.

Through the Fair Pay for GTAs campaign, which was run in collaboration with KCLSU and UCU, we took the radical measure of threatening a marking boycott ? effectively a GTA strike. As a result, we won the following concessions:

  1. 20 per cent pay increase for essay marking.
  2. Double paid preparation time.
  3. The establishment of a representative body to give GTAs a voice ? this very position!

Here is what remains to be won:

  1. Essay-based marking should be paid at a rate of 2000 words per hour (as is the case at Essex and Glasgow).
  2. All payment and HR processes should be carried out in-house; the use of Direct Temping or other agencies should be discontinued immediately.
  3. Preparation should be paid at a ratio of 4:1 to teaching.
  4. Sufficient training should be provided for GTAs and it should be paid for by the college.

Rampant casualization of the higher education sector (which has put 60 per cent of academic workers on some form of casual contract) means we are the frontline teaching staff at the university. And we are rewarded for our efforts with low pay and mistreatment.

We do more than half the teaching on some modules. Students’ entire academic experiences hinge on us. We’re the ones who offer crucial pastoral support, take students through essay feedback, get them prepared for exams. And yet our working experience at King’s is marred by terrible exploitation.

The Fair Pay for GTAs campaign that I helped run last year found that 96 per cent of King's GTAs regularly work past their contracted hours: which amounts to working for free. The realities of preparation time, marking and contact with students means it is impossible to do a decent job in the terms set by our contracts.

In fact, when you look at the number of hours we actually work rather than what we are paid for, many GTAs earn below minimum-wage. Meanwhile our Principal, Ed Byrne, enjoys a £452,000 salary. Is his contribution really greater than ours?

Disturbingly, the college recently described GTAs as 'apprentices'. This kind of language devalues our work and sets a dangerous precedent for part-time and casual workers at King's.

A historic crisis of capitalism is strangling the education sector. Up and down the country, HE and FE union reps face persecution while more and more teaching work is covered by overworked, underpaid casuals. Meanwhile, university fat-cats line their pockets with student fees ? which at King’s are set to increase next year. We cannot allow this to continue.

Workers in all sectors will experience exploitation as long as capitalism exists, which is why we have to get active, get unionised and get radical ? we have to fight for every inch so that we become a militant force for change.

 Education is a human right and education workers should not have to suffer, let’s fight for a free education system paid for with the expropriated wealth of the bankers and bosses, and for every concession we can win along the way.

For a free, fair and accessible higher education system. For the end to the exploitation of casual staff. For a better university for students and workers.

Sincerely,

Joe