What began as standing on stalls urging students to sign a petition, and training sessions on negotiation and community organizing finally resulted in an agreement from our Vice Chancellor to implement a living wage for all employees at the University of Manchester. The fact that the largest university in the country agreed to pay a living wage is proof that campaigning works, and that change is achievable through agitation and organisation.
There was a massive buzz on campus and not just amongst Manchester Labour Students; students would come up to us on stalls, there were standing ovations in lecture shout outs and a widely discussed article in the student paper. Yet the biggest break came when VC Dame Nancy Rothwell did a question and answer session at the Students’ Union. After being asked why the University doesn’t pay the living wage, the VC agreed to meet with three representatives, including myself, to discuss the issue.
As a result of the meeting, the University of Manchester committed to pay a living wage for all staff on campus - with the exception of Student Ambassadors. This has huge implications as the university is a massive employer in the region and has set an example which we hope others will follow. The meeting lasted just over half an hour but was the result of a three month campaign which started when Movement for Change came to deliver training late last year.
Those involved in the campaign were out regularly on campus and had a very consistent, visible presence. It was this which helped raise awareness of the issue, and this was key in allowing us to put pressure on the university to acknowledge that the living wage is an issue that students are passionate about, and to respond appropriately. The response to the campaign was fantastic and made it much easier for us to approach the Vice-Chancellor, confident that we had the support of hundreds of students behind us and from dozens of other clubs and societies.
This aspect of our campaign was one of the most crucial. Having conversations and building relationships with people around a shared issue made running the campaign so much easier and more effective. It also built a broad coalition of students which I anticipate will be able to take action on campus around other issues in the future. Having the support of students and involving people with a range of different motivations gave extra legitimacy and momentum to the campaign.
The living wage campaign is incredibly important, firstly for the obvious benefits it gives to college, university, and students’ union staff. It is also crucial in terms of our responsibility to make sure the sector remains at the forefront of ethical employment. The living wage campaign is an amazing opportunity for students to get involved in a campaign that really changes people’s lives. While there are so many campaigns which change lives for the better what was so wonderful about working on the campaign in Manchester was that we could see the gains that people got right in front of us. We knew the people who were to benefit, and that made it so powerful.
It’s easy in student politics to get weighed down with rhetoric and distracted by insignificant details that make it difficult to achieve tangible goals, and not for want of trying. This campaign was different, it was amazing walking away from that meeting knowing that we had made a concrete difference, that all our hard work had paid off and that we channeled people’s passion and talents into a huge win for employees at the University of Manchester. I would encourage anyone to get involved in a living wage campaign at their institution. It is not only a worthwhile cause but a really rewarding experience.
Fionnuala McGoldrick is a member of Manchester Labour Students and on NUS LGBT Committee.
For more information about how you can run a living wage campaign on your campus email Vice President Society & Citizenship Dannie Grufferty or see http://www.alivingwage.co.uk/.