Fighting against casualisation in education: a national conference

Friday 06-02-2015 - 11:32

Workplace 'casualisation', also known as 'informalisation' or 'flexibilisation', is a move towards temporary or irregular working hours.

Within the past four decades the phenomenon of 'casualisation' has spread from the periphery to one of the primary devices of labour exploitation across the world. The insecurity brought on by this regime has intensified within the current conjuncture but has risen from the margins to affect the dominant modes of production but has always been enforced to the vast majority of the global south, marginalised communities in the global north, and ‘feminised’ labour or ‘extra-economic’ spheres of labour.

The history of job market security is highly racialised and steeped in the development of capitalist production, state resource allocation and labour mobility. In the US the limited number of jobs that Black workers had access to were either barred from organising into unions or structural incapable such as service work. The legacy of apartheid labour regime meant that labour market access for Black people were restricted to agricultural and domestic work until the early 20th century, descendants of slavery-era ‘house’ and ‘field’ tasks, excluded as part of Wagner Act of 1941 in the US. Today most agricultural and domestic workers are descendants of indigenous people from Mexico and Central America and are still barred from collective bargaining rights and are heavily 'casualised'. The industrial heyday Black workers were utilised as a ‘reserve army’ by employers and the state to replace striking white industrial workers in the northern states of the US. Thus, giving access to industrial labour only as casualised ‘scab’ labour further entrenched divide-and-conquer strategies by capital over labour.

As production began shifting from the global north to the global south in the 1970s, what remained were service work in which the power of capital and labour were even more lopsided in favour of the employer. Under an economic ideology that came to be known as ‘neoliberalism’, workers found that their power was significantly diminished and all forms of work began to take on a precarious nature in which full time or permanent contracts and steady hours became increasingly sparse. Again, this was not new to Black workers. Higher education has not been inoculated by this new labour regime.

University faculty employment practices in the UK and the US are different. In the US the system of ‘tenure’ allows professors a guarantee of permanent employment (or a ‘job for life’) and not undergo termination of employment without ‘just cause’. This system gives teachers in higher education both job security and the ability for academic exploration on controversial areas largely unencumbered by the risk of job loss as a result. However, university ‘tenure-track’ system has been heavily criticised for being highly racialised. In a widely citied essay titled ‘How the tenured are to the job market as white people are to racism’ it is argued that labour market pressures and the eroding of tenure within higher education have compounded longstanding racially disparate realities.   

In recent years the UK has undergone growing demand for a limited number of university positions, which has been intensified by state cuts to non-STEM departments, augmenting the power of university administrators and diminished the power of faculty. There is increasing evidence of the ‘casualisation’ of higher education which has meant that full-time work has been replaced with temporary academic staff, adjunct positions, and part-time lectureships at an alarming rate. There is much evidence that historically marginalised people are disproportionately ‘casualised’ within the university. For example, on average women and Black faculty in higher education are more junior to male and white counterparts, earn less, have less mobility than male and white lecturers, and, as a result of a myriad of other factors, are forced to take up more insecure and temporary positions than male and white counterparts. 

Insecurity at the university lies at the intersection of exploitation and oppression. Indeed, heightened immigration restrictions from non-EU countries succeeds in further entrenching the asymmetry between Black academics vis-à-vis their white counterparts, the white university employers, and the state.

The issue of race, casualisation and higher education will be discussed at length along with other issues related to work in higher education and how to organise to successfully resist at ‘Fighting Against Casualising in Education’. This upcoming national conference will be held at SOAS on Saturday 7 February (10am – 6pm) and you can register your place here.

This article was written by Ashok Kumar, NUS Black Students' Campaign Postgraduate Representative. 



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