KCL to mobilise for the living wage

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On Tuesday 12th November 2013 students and staff at Kings College London will be demonstrating for the living wage for University staff. Despite its promise to do so, KCL still hasn’t increased staff pay to £8.80/hour – the living wage in London. Meanwhile the University and its Vice-Chancellor are up to their necks in cash. Below is a statement from the KCL Marxist Society on the fight for the living wage at Kings. See the facebook event for more information.

Kings College management has signally failed to carry out its promise, made more than three years ago, to pay the living wage to all staff. In contrast, all other University of London Universities have now made concrete plans to pay the London Living Wage, which has just gone up to £8.80 per hour.

Despite this, KCL made a profit of £31.51m in 2011-2, has £776.31m in assets, and can afford to pay its Vice Chancellor in the region of £300,000 per year. In addition to not paying a living wage to all staff, there is a £12,425 disparity between the wages KCL pays to male and female academic staff, and that wages for academic staff are so low they recently went on strike, which was well supported at KCL.

Despite the successes of the Living Wage campaign in London and the UK recently, the number of people who are paid less than a “living wage” has leapt by more than 400,000 in a year to over 5.2 million due to the crisis of capitalism. For every employer that pledges, under pressure of class struggle, to pay a Living Wage, many more use the spectre of unemployment to lower wages for their workers. The number of children living in families with earnings below the living wage has risen from 1.82 million in 2010-11 to 1.96 million in 2011-12. 28% of Londoners are classified as poor and net incomes among the least well-off Londoners have been falling rapidly.

Quite clearly, British capitalism, which is in a deep crisis, can no longer function without millions of unemployed people for whom a wage of any kind is a distant dream. In addition to this there are one million people on zero hours contracts and one million young people not in work, training or education at all. This has been the case for years now and shows no signs of going away. Such is 21st Century capitalism.

We strongly applaud the King’s College Student Union for recently voting at a Student Council meeting to back the campaign for a London Living Wage here. Only mass action by students and workers, such as this protest, can force the university to pay a decent wage to all of its staff – their failure to do so for three years shows that they will not do so out of the goodness of their heart. A victory for this campaign would represent a massive step forward for workers at Kings and an important step toward the unity of workers and students at KCL.

However capitalism is not – and never can be – made ‘responsible’. Every progressive reform and victory for ordinary workers and youth has, throughout history, been won through struggle – through the mobilisation, organisation, and action of the labour movement. This has been aptly demonstrated by the recent struggles of garment workers in Bangladesh, who have won a wage increase of 77% – not because of the kindness of the capitalists or the boycotts of Primark, etc., but because of a series of militant strikes over the past few months.

The Living Wage, whilst an important conquest where achieved, is also limited. It does not provide a decent standard of living, especially in a city like London. Furthermore, the Living Wage is only an hourly rate of pay, not a guaranteed annual wage, leaving workers on it dependent on being given enough hours of work to survive. It remains a purely voluntary commitment, and even the mandatory minimum wage remains unpaid for many vulnerable workers in Britain today.

We believe that KCLSU should use all of its resources to campaign amongst the students for maximum support for the Living Wage campaign at KCL, including contacting all societies to urge them to support it, the commissioning and featuring of articles in Roar, and calling mass meetings to discuss plans for the campaign. KCLSU should also send delegates to liaise with trade unions on campus to collaborate on the campaign for a Living Wage for all staff.

A real living wage for all should be a basic human right; but under capitalism, it remains an utopia. The task of the leaders of the labour movement is not to persuade the bosses to do this or that, but to mobilise workers and youth in the fight for a socialist programme. Although it has been vocal in its support for the Living Wage, Labour plans to keep it voluntary. Rather than trying to regulate and incentivise the capitalists, Labour should be committing to the nationalisation of the banks and the major monopolies – including the energy companies, utilities, and transport – under democratic control. Only through the socialist transformation of society can we guarantee such basic demands as full employment, a home for all, free education, decent pensions and public services, and – yes – a genuine living wage