Last Tuesday (12/11/13) members of KCL Marxists, along with other groups of the left, assembled in the Strand Lobby at King’s College to help protest the failure of the King’s College Council to establish the London Living Wage (LLW) for all its employees, despite having promised to do so over three years ago. The KCL Living Wage Campaign was started by several PHD students approaching the cleaning staff in March of this year after having submitted a FoI request and discovered that due to the university’s stalling and delaying tactics the LLW may only be introduced at the earliest in 2017.
In the meantime, outsourced staff at King’s are forced to survive on the minimum wage (£6.31). In the words of one of the cleaners present at the demonstration, “this hardly covers our bills and groceries while we get the coldshoulder from the university.” The situation is sadly the same if not worse for many families across Britain. The Trussell Trust has reported figures of over 300,000 people requiring assistance from their food banks over the 2012-13 period, while the Institute of Fiscal Studies has warned that child poverty will affect an additional 400,000 thousand children by 2015. Despite this, the vast majority of institutions and corporations continue to dispense the lowest possible pay they can legally provide, often through ‘outsourcing’ jobs to agencies as King’s College has done. This is despite the university’s increasing of tuition fees in 2012 and reported profits in excess of £30m last year. But perhaps the greatest snub is that the University has this year been able to pay its vice chancellor to the tune of £300,000.
Happily however, the campaign at KCL seems to be heading in the right direction with the Student Union voting to back the LLW campaign at King’s. The campaign has already attracted the interests of Caroline Lucas MP, John McDonnell MP, and Owen Jones, among others. The demonstration itself was well attended, not only by students and activists, but also by some of the domestic staff who had bravely taken unpaid leave off work to make known their legitimate demands of fairer pay, and freedom from the exploitative practices of outsourcing agencies. After handing out leaflets in the lobby and outside the main entrance, around 50 people marched to the campus canteen where activists and members of staff explained why the protest was taking place and how they could help by signing the petition. This was met with applause from those seated, and having gathered many signatures, the group did the same at Somerset House Terrace.
To achieve the LLW at King’s would be a significant step forward for the workers at King’s, and an important step towards the unity of workers and students at the university. With enough noise, we may be able to get King’s to go the same way as UCL, QMC, LSE, and SOAS, in securing the LLW for all its employees. We should be aware however that the LLW still represents an hourly rate of insecure employment that cannot provide a decent standard of living, especially in a city like London. Capitalism, as this episode proves, will not willingly provide a better standard of living for its human productive forces, nor can it. It is only through the socialist transformation of society that we can guarantee the basic demands of full employment, housing, free education, and a genuine living wage.
Nevertheless, we remain committed to working with other groups in the present to secure a better and fairer standard of living for King’s university staff. It is in this spirit that we hope to persuade members of the society and the wider public, to sign the petition below and support the domestic staff at King’s College. Furthermore we hope that the Student Union and Unison will continue to work together to actively campaign this issue through the student paper ‘Roar!’ and through the mobilization of the many societies at King’s. A show of unity from the student bodies and the Unions would send a message to the University’s management that staff and students alike are appalled at the conduct of the King’s College Council. If the Council must be ‘embarrassed’ into paying a Living wage as other constituent colleges of the UoL do, then so be it. The student populace should not stand by as living standards decline across the capital and our university takes advantage of our society’s most vulnerable.
We should be under no illusion however that the instatement of the LLW in King’s would represent a fair and equitable deal. Austerity measures will hurt our society’s vulnerable most while the richest will get a £3 billion tax cut over the remainder of this year and next. As more and more are forced out of necessity into zero-hours contracts and minimum wage employment, we need the whole labour movement to come together in a mass campaign to challenge the present state of affairs. This means a commitment to a Socialist programme and an end to present exploitative Capitalism.
By Daniel Graham, KCL Marxists