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From The Socialist newspaper, 23 September 2020

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Marketised misery

Like thousands of other postgraduate research students, I teach undergraduates on a casual basis. I have no contract or guaranteed hours but work by the hour when asked.

Universities have come to rely on casual staff as a cheap, disposable workforce. With the cost of rent high in many areas, many of us are desperate for any work we can get. Universities exploit this, knowing that they have a reserve army of teachers at their disposal.

This year, I received an email on the 12 September asking if I could teach a seminar class this term, starting in less than two weeks. Because of Covid, we have to develop both online and physical lesson plans. Students are expecting that we have prepared all summer to adapt to this shift and to develop excellent online materials!

I had previously been told there would be no work available this year, so I was not following all of the latest news and training regarding online learning. Even if I had, it would have all been unpaid. Meanwhile, I'm also fearful of the safety of in-person teaching as university bosses have been reckless with their return to opening plans.

Undergraduate students would be shocked to know that I have only had two hours training to teach, all unpaid, of course. I have engaged in extra learning in my own time, so I can deliver to a standard I feel students deserve.

No one has ever observed my classes, and I've never received any feedback on my progress. I am paid 13 an hour but, based on the actual amount of hours put in for each class, it is more like 5 an hour.

Graduate teaching assistants are caught between a rock and a hard place. If we do what we are actually paid for, then our students would rightly complain and it would damage our career prospects too. But if we put in the work that our students deserve, then we take on hours of unpaid labour which impacts our family time and our research too.

The University and College Union (UCU) 'four fights' dispute last year allowed casualised teachers to voice the realities of their experience: the challenges of being able to rent with agencies rejecting our insecure income, challenges of making plans for the future, difficulties in relationships and unable to take time off sick.

Coronavirus has only exacerbated the plight of casualisation and worsened its effects. The UCU must continue the fight. University bosses cannot get away with this any longer, and students have an essential role to play in the fight.

During the four fights dispute in 2019-20 we said "our working conditions are your learning conditions". Students and university workers should unite and fight against this misery of casualisation caused by the market system.

Bea Gardner, Southampton

I didn't see it coming

  (Click to enlarge)

Test-and-trace chief Baroness Harding - who has usurped Chris "failing" Grayling as the most incompetent top public office holder in the UK - cemented her position when she told MPs: "I don't think anybody was expecting to see the really sizable increase in demand [for tests] that has happened over the last few weeks".

Her surprise seemed to ignore the nationwide reopening of schools that her government instituted. Oh dear.

Simon Carter, Newham, east London

Lacking authority

Birmingham City Council has put a poster on the city centre's animated poster sites urging people to obey social distancing and hygiene regulations to reduce the city's spiralling number of Covid-19 cases, and avoid a second lockdown.

In order for people to take such messages seriously, they must be delivered by people who are respected in the community. Councils are badly placed to be taken seriously because of their long track record of cutting services and treating people with contempt.

If they want people to listen to what they have to say they should fight austerity and actually stick up for their citizens.

Clive Walder, Birmingham

One law for them, another for us!

The shock and horror currently being expressed by middle-class liberals about Johnson's threat to break international law is a bit late.

For some years now the UK has been in breach of Conventions 87 and 98 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), in respect of the right to strike and unwarranted interference in the internal affairs of trade unions.

The ILO is a United Nations body, bringing together trade unions, employers' organisations and governments to formulate conventions and issue guidance on their implementation. More importantly, their decisions are part of the body of international law.

I do not support Johnson's proposals, but just make the point that if international law is so important, why hasn't the capitalist news media focused on these breaches? A cynic could be forgiven for concluding that International Law under capitalism only matters when big business interests are threatened.

Roger Bannister, Liverpool

Readers' competition

I think the Socialist should run a competition. Namely, who has the furthest to go for a Covid test?

A friend of mine in Hull was informed that the nearest test centre for his two children who had some of the Covid-19 symptoms was Inverness in Scotland! The journey from Hull to Inverness is 423 miles estimated at nearly 8 hours travelling - and that's with no breaks. Add in the time for the test and the return journey, and effectively this becomes a two-day expedition!

The problems over testing are caused by decades of NHS cuts and 'rationalisations'. It used to be the case that most hospitals had virology departments with labs that could be used for testing. Most of these labs in local hospitals have now been closed and centralised.

Politicians from all of the establishment parties have justified this process as the most effective way to run services. In reality, it has been to make cuts. These cuts have now come back to haunt them as the testing service is shown to be completely inadequate.

Unfortunately, it is ordinary people like us that pay the price. We have to fight for democratic control of the health service so that the right services are available to everyone.

Mick Whale, chair Hull Trades Council

Uncaring council - fight the cuts!

In Basingstoke, three severely disabled adults who live together in a house run by Hampshire County Council have received notice that their home will be closed by April next year.

The reason given is that renovating the building is not financially viable, and costs of keeping it open are too high. Never mind that the people living there won't survive moving!

The three have formed deep attachments to each other and their carers. The only alternative is moving to a care home six miles away in another town. Here, their families won't be close, they'll be split up from their housemates and carers, and they won't live in a family setting. It would be life threatening to turn their world upside down and they would not understand why this is happening.

Hampshire County Council is making 80 million of cuts to its budget, which means the most vulnerable and poor will pay the price. But we can turn the tide if we organise our communities and protest!

Basingstoke socialists are organising a campaign to save this home and others. We will put pressure on the Tory councillors to reverse these cuts, and use borrowing powers and reserves to provide good quality housing and care for all.

The Tories are weak and U-turn on every issue when only a threat of protest is made. So join us, and united we can kick them out.

Mayola Demmenie, Basingstoke

Stop the culling

The government has ordered that upwards of 75,000 badgers should be slaughtered to prevent cows becoming infected with bovine TB. This is despite an independent survey in 2013 which showed that the killings were inhumane and ineffective. It also was more expensive than vaccinating badgers, which has been shown to work in Wales.

News of the slaughter comes at the same time as the World Wide Fund for Nature stated that there has been a serious decline in the numbers of most animal species.

Capitalism has been a disaster for wildlife. Through socialism we can protect life-forms and ensure they flourish.

David Rawlinson, Southampton

Starmer's new pub decor

New Labour leadership? That reminds me of all those pubs that reopen with "Under new management" signs. Usually it takes a month or two before they close again. Under new management they might have had the interior refurbished, sometimes there is a name change (like New Labour?), but basically they are establishments incapable of meeting the demands of changing conditions or satisfying the needs of the people they serve.

Sue Powell, Gloucester

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Coronavirus crisis - Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • Our 'fighting coronavirus workers' charter', outlines a programme to combat the virus and protect workers' living conditions.
  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
Inevitably, during the crisis we have not been able to sell the Socialist and raise funds in the ways we normally would.
We therefore urgently appeal to all our viewers to donate to our special coronavirus appeal.

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In The Socialist 23 September 2020:

Coronavirus news

Tory Covid chaos

North East lockdown: simmering anger at Tory incompetence

Testing shambles: unions must fight back

Johnson's schools social-distancing lie


Dispatches from the front - chaotic schools are not safe!

Workplace news

A day in the life of a salon worker

Workplace news in brief


'FinCEN Files' expose rampant financial corruption: nationalise the banks!

Extend eviction ban! Cap rents! Build council homes!

News in brief


Covid and the campuses

Why I joined

Why we joined the Socialist Party


Fund NHS and pay rise now

Coventry: Socialist Students is back

Liverpool Council must save care homes

Sussex: Hands off Peacehaven schools

Fighting fund: One week to raise 3,444

The Socialist: More than a newspaper

International news

Thailand: Youth rising against hated junta

Readers' opinion

TV: The English Game - how the working class made football the people's game

The Socialist Inbox


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