HM Online 2021: Struggles in the Education Sector: Casualisation and the Pandemic

Throughout the pandemic, the UK government has taken an ‘arms-length’ approach to the economic survival of Higher Education, providing no financial support and little guidance for workers in the sector. In the immediate term, this resulted in significant job losses in the sector, as university managers directed short-term cost-saving measures against casualised workers. It also led to a health and safety crisis, as university leaders were forced to maintain student recruitment figures in a context widely identified by scientific authorities as a “vector of infectious disease transmission”. Conversely, the state has taken an increasingly active role in certain areas of HE in a bid to further entrench right-wing neoliberal orthodoxies: Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, recently announced the government’s decision to route public funding toward STEM subjects, cutting funding for ‘high cost’ Arts and Design courses by 50% while pushing all universities to adopt the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.

Against this backdrop, the leadership of the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) has focused on non-industrial means of addressing these assaults on the sector, issuing public condemnations of government policies on lockdown funding, health and safety measures and subject-specific funding cuts. In the absence of a national industrial strategy responding to this unfolding situation, many union branches have opted for local industrial actions against their direct employers. During the pandemic, union branches at Liverpool, Goldsmiths, Leicester, University of East London, Chester, Solent and elsewhere have taken local action against increasingly emboldened university managers. Meanwhile grassroots anti-casualisation campaigns, such as Corona Contract, have sought to mobilise rank-and-file resistance around a set of sectoral demands. Common in these localised/grassroots struggles is an uneasy relationship with the priorities of the national union, and a leading role taken by casualised workers.

Aimée Lê and Jordan Osserman’s (Corona Contract) recent article in Radical Philosophy, ‘Who will survive the university?’ sets the agenda for a panel that will consider the class political status of casualised workers within these and future struggles in the education sector. Talks will situate the dynamic of casualisation within the broader transformations taking place in the labour process of UK universities, the sector’s articulation with the state, labour markets and financialisation and will assess the potentials and limitations of the political subjectivity evolving out of the experience and struggles of casualised workers in Higher Education today.


Roberto Mozzachiodi (Goldsmiths College. UK),

Aimée Lê and Jordan Osserman’s (Corona Contract, UK),

Alex Coupe (University of Liverpool, UK)

Associated Literatures:

Who will survive the university? by Aimée Lê and Jordan Osserman:…

Justice for Workers at Goldsmiths in the fight against casualisation:…

We Cannot Pause in a Pandemic — Response to Rocha and Marris by Corona Contract:…

What next for UCU during COVID-19? by Roberto Mozzachiodi:…

This event is co-sponsored by Historical Materialism and Haymarket Books. While all events for HM Online are free to register, the organizers ask comrades who are able to please consider making a donation, which would help enormously in covering the costs of putting together this programme of events. Like all left organisations, HM had a very tough period from the beginning of 2020 and our budgets are very stretched and bank balance is sinking all the time, with very little revenue coming in. If you can make a contribution to help keep us afloat, please don’t hesitate!

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