On March 12 SOAS management circulated an email to all students and staff regarding the first confirmed case of a student testing positive with COVID-19. The actions taken by the university included informing those in close contact with the student and sanitising any known rooms that the student had been in. The email stated “The seminar room used for the teaching activity has been closed off and is being sanitised by a provider whom we already had on standby for such an eventuality, in line with PHE advice”.
Shortly after this notice was sent, an anonymous tip was received stating that the claimed actions taken by SOAS management were not true. The tip came from a member of the SOAS Admin department exposing that this “provider on standby in line with PHE Advice” was a single cleaner from the university who was not informed that the room was being sanitized for reasons relating to the coronavirus. This cleaner was then given 14 days leave after the incident, and whether or not this leave was paid is still unknown to the public. It was not until UNISON intervened that the staff member was notified of the potential exposure to the virus. Management then proceeded to state the staff member sent to clean the room entered “by mistake”, as a feeble attempt to wash their hands of their actions. The staff member then released a statement sharing this was obviously not the case, and that they had cleaned the room multiple times without any prior knowledge of the risks.
After this information was spread the students of SOAS immediately developed a campaign and petition regarding the horrific behavior and negligence of management regarding the safety of workers. Their demands are being linked with the wider crisis of Higher Education, and the specific problems which SOAS is suffering within it. This crisis has its root in the capitalist system, which in its monstrous, all-engulfing profit motive has made of education a market, and of students consumers.
Universities world wide have shut down and switched to online platforms as a safety precaution. In this process, there are many university workers that cannot afford to move online and their jobs and safety are in danger. Staff employed on contracts, many of which are outsourced and have little to no benefits face weeks without pay. Library workers, catering staff, cleaners, security, and several other workers cannot simply switch to an online platform. The response to the crisis by Boris Johnson’s government has consistently fallen short of what is required by the dire situation we are facing, and completely disregards workers futures and wellbeing.
The market system is threatening the health of the working class by forcing these workers to attend work to make ends meet. There are little to no protections for them, and they are left to manage the result of this crisis on their own. The unions and the Labour party have urged to support workers demanding a suspension on rent and paid leave during this period. However, these demands should go further. Capitalism is a barrier in the development of human society and is responsible for the problems stemming from the outbreak of the virus. Only a socialist transformation of society in the UK and beyond can deal with this crisis and free us from under the yoke of corrupt bosses, greedy bankers and inept management.
SOAS Marxist Society
Link to SOAS Students Demands