The Marxist Student-led Fair Pay for GTAs campaign has won a 20% pay increase for student teachers at King’s College London following an 18-month struggle with university bosses.

Ever since the Tory-led Coalition government lifted the cap on student intake at universities in 2012, Higher Education institutions have leaned on the casual labour of Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs). These exploited student teachers – who are expected to work for a pittance – are symptomatic of the on-going casualization of the HE sector, in which over 60% of workers are only partially employed.

Inspired by the militant Fractionals for Fair Pay group at SOAS, student teachers at King’s College London launched a campaign of their own in 2015, beginning with a survey of over 400 GTAs, which found that 96% of King’s GTAs regularly work overtime for nothing. This survey (which was covered in the Times Higher Education supplement) was followed by a threatened marking boycott, with GTAs refusing to mark coursework until they were paid fairly.

Under pressure from the campaign, which was steered by MSF members and lent support by the King’s student union, UCU and Unison, King’s management acquiesced to the following concessions:

  • A 20% increase in pay for marking.
  • A doubling of pay for preparation time.
  • The establishment of an elected representational body for GTAs, with the right to send representatives to senior staff and management meetings.

Despite falling short of the campaign’s demands, this offer (which amounts to a cash value of around £350,000) is still a significant victory that will be built upon in coming months.

Crucially, these concessions would not have been won without the formation a united front by militant university workers, supported by comrades in the trade union movement. The MSF member and UCU union activist who helped lead the campaign will report on the role of socialist politics in its effectiveness at the UCU’s national conference in June.

Though small in the context of the historical task facing the working class, the success of this campaign demonstrates the potential power of organised workers inspired by Marxist ideas.

Lenin spoke of ‘reforms’ in times of capitalist crisis as “foretokens and precursors of revolution.” Rather than blunting the revolutionary spirit of the working class, they only raise their class-consciousness and draw the “ever greater masses” into the struggle.

Education will never be free of exploitation while capitalism survives, but every small advance by students and university workers brings them closer to uniting with the wider workers’ movement and casting off the shackles of capitalism for good.


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