University bosses have been paying close attention to the news recently.
From some probably quite comfortable settees, they’ve watched the government slash in-work benefits by £13bn; they’ve tuned in for Boris Johnson’s attempt at forcing tube staff to take 14 weeks of night shifts without negotiation or compensation; and they’ve seen the Troika return to waterboarding Greece with cuts, privatisation, and absolutely no regard for the terrifying human costs of these impositions.
Watching the News at Ten might be the execs’ favourite bit of entertainment right now – until they wondered, how could we bring a bit of this to York?
One idea: cut porters’ wages by a fifth.
That’s the threat now looming over staff on campus. 22% of their wage packet – confiscated. And whatever the management’s motives, callous or careless, this is giving sleepless nights to fifty people, the people behind reception desks who work hard to keep campus running – workers with mortgages, with all sorts of commitments, families, pension schemes, car loans, all suddenly thrown into complete disarray.
In total, the cut to their combined wages would amount to £285,000 if carried through. Why this is being proposed is not yet clear – what is absolutely clear is that the people making the proposal, a handful of university executives, together earn well over a million pounds annually, adding insult to injury. So far the management have only said that this proposal has come about as a result of “the changing nature of higher education.” We can only assume that by this ‘changing nature’ they’re talking about steadily rising executive salaries.
It certainly doesn’t refer to any loss of revenue – the university continues to run at a surplus (thanks to our £9k fees), even with the debt accrued from private finance initiatives, itself a result of extreme mismanagement.
The boldness of the planned wage cut is unprecedented at this university. And the management’s decision to start negotiations off with this brutal demand on the table is indicative of how much uglier things are getting for education workers. It’s highly likely that this will lead to strikes.
Students at the university and unaffected staff in other unions – like our lecturers – need to do all we can to support the porters, and York Student Socialists will organise actions in solidarity with the union of the affected workers. In struggles like this we need to put forward the case for a university managed democratically, not in the style of a top-down private business, where employees are treated with proper respect. The root causes of austerity in education need to be properly confronted with the arguments for a socialist alternative.
The management at York and other institutions will continue to cut conditions for staff and students. And while this is happening we need to ask them: why not start at the top? If they did, we just might see the first ever bosses’ strike – I doubt we’d miss them anywhere near as much as the porters.