On Why University Worker and University Work: A conversation with student activists from Canada

The following was written in response to questions sent to us by comrades in the Student and Education Worker Industrial Organizing Committee of the Toronto Industrial Workers of the World. They also run a newsletter/blog, called ClassRoom. The document was prepared in May of 2015. We did this as a stocktaking exercise for The University Worker since it started in November 2013.

  1. Can you tell us a little bit about your project and the organization behind it (when your paper was founded, who is involved, how the editorial process works, etc)?

We are a group of about 20; all work in the university in various capacities; some of us even have more than one institutionally defined role (being both a student as well as an ad-hoc teacher/research assistant). We come from somewhat varied political experiences, although all were broadly part of the Left spectrum. We all had some engagements in university politics, especially anti-fee hike struggles, anti-sexual harassment struggles, or struggles around the ‘undemocratic decision-making’ at the universities. Some were part of student wings of CPs in India, some were autonomous. For some university-level struggles led to disillusionment with the transient nature of victories or shallowness of reform, and a sense of the overall impossibility of real change in the university through isolated struggles.

One autonomous project was “Correspondence”. Among other things, it was during this effort that we first seriously tried to conceptualize the university as a legitimate site of working class struggle, and the student as part of the working class. The hope was, firstly, to counter tendencies that looked at the university as a pool of recruits for struggles happening elsewhere – factories or fields; and secondly, to deal with the problems that we, ‘working’ in the university, could not ignore or escape. These problems seemed to us to be problems of control over work/life (that incidentally also restricted possible engagements outside the university).

Radical Notes is an online Marxist journal that we find ourselves associating with. Some of us play an active part of the journal. Faridabad Mazdoor Samachar is a newspaper with circulation among industrial workers. We have taken some of our ideas from their experience, even though we differ on some questions. Gurgaon Workers News is a blog that we have learnt from. “Zero History” is another group from Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, that has been trying to think of politics in the university in terms of a “general assembly”, and we have found many resonances with their ideas. It was at a joint meeting of many such autonomous groups from different parts of India in October 2013 that the idea of starting The University Worker emerged. In this meeting we decided that we would start various newspapers, and inquire afresh into the state of affairs in our respective locations.

In November 2013, we started to plan the paper. We were a diverse bunch and our ideas were diverse too. Therefore in planning how the paper would work, we thought it better to have different editorial groups for every issue. Everybody’s inputs are included at various stages in the production of every issue, but each group has a certain degree of autonomy to do what they wish with the issue. The editorial, however, the entire group discusses and we try to reach as close to a consensus as possible. Of course, informal hierarchies emerge, with the more politically experienced being more confident. We attempt to address this through our reading group. Gendered power relations too have been brought to light but this cannot so easily be dealt with by reading. This is a continuing struggle.

There is, however, no organisation behind the newspaper. Or to put it another way, the newspaper is the ‘organisation’, not a mouthpiece for an organization seeking to organize ‘workers’. Our group is on the one hand an organized body of university workers, and on the other the group that brings out The University Worker. To us the newspaper is the primary, as a working class organization.

What does the newspaper as an organisation imply? (And herein lies our project.)

Through our paper, we seek to produce and circulate an alternative discourse, which might over a period of time make possible the articulation of seemingly impossible notions of complete systemic transformation and actualization of absolute democracy. It deals with work-processes and struggles within the university space. The expanded definition of work (which will be elaborated later) entails that both events/occurrences (major changes of syllabi, institutional repression, arbitrary decisions, etc.) as well as everyday existence within the university be seen and understood keeping in mind the capital-labour contradiction, and the place of the university within a society structured by this contradiction.

The reports therein are not intended to only have been an objective and distanced explication of individual problems of various workers, or an attempt to raise awareness on behalf of something/someone else by way of an alternative pedagogical stance. Instead however, we see the process of inquiry itself as a mode of political intervention in which the worker’s own experience is revisited by the worker herself, but with an understanding of capitalist processes. The reports in the newsletters are there to show, and engage with workers’ experience and their understanding of these experiences; it is here that we identify an always already emerging self-consciousness. The emphasis on the worker’s experience and her understanding of it is opposed to a vanguardist position which would perhaps direct an experience with little regard to what a worker is able to understand autonomously. In other words, the project of political cognisance (through inquiry) differs from reflective cognizance, and we think that this process of political cognisance of the present is also potentially a moment of effective action.

The long-term vision of working class interests is perhaps only kept alive by engaging with the lived impulses of struggle that is constitutive of the university, as of all spaces. So we continuously seek out others tendencies within the working-class movement, and try to engage with their responses to the experiences that we document in The University Worker.

What the paper does at a macro-level, the inquiry does at a micro-level; both processes enabling a self-consciousness beyond the ideology of capitalism. Through this method, the possibility of abstractions becoming “ideological,” divorced from the concrete diminishes. The reports are thought through using theoretical tools that past experiences have given us, but theory too is to be rethought in the light of new experience. Something similar applies to the militant-inquirer who may discover her theory to be inadequate, unable to comprehend some particular experience; a change in language, in theoretical apparatus will then be called for. The paper, as it develops will reflect this change.

Admittedly, how much success we have had in the process of inquiry is debatable and time will tell whether this will remain a founding principle of our work. We are still uncertain whether and what forms of self-consciousness are indeed emerging (if at all); something that will only be ascertained only by future practice.

  1. What are the main issues around which you are currently organizing?

If by issues, you mean things like fee hikes, firing of staff, levels of pay, changes of policy etc., the answer is that we don’t organize campaigns around such issues. As explained above, our practice is about organizing around the everydayness of labour and class struggle. Rather than react to sudden ruptures in life, we want to engage in the politics of how everyday life is structured for/by the university worker, how work is imposed everyday, how the worker is exploited everyday and how workers struggle everyday.

Of course, we are not dismissing the importance of campaigns around issues, campaigns about events. Take for example the struggle that erupted in Jadavpur University after a female student was molested on campus. Students mobilized in huge numbers, raging first against the university administration’s failure to act after the attack, and then against the police violence faced by the struggling students. On the one hand, we observed that organizing solely around each event — demanding an investigation, or the removal of the Vice Chancellor — divorces “everydayness” from the event. In other words, such a mode of politics fails to unmask the violence embedded in the very structure of the university. On the other, we also understand that the mobilization that takes place around such an event is potentially a point of entry into the politics of the student-worker.

In this instance, we attended solidarity demonstrations in Delhi with a pamphlet trying to connect the present struggle with past ones, as well as struggles going on in other workplaces, around other issues, inferring from them a latent fact, that the problem is not this or that misdeed but the structure itself. We argued that “the only practical thing to do is to demand the impossible — streets without police, university without discipline, sex without power, work without work.”

Workers’ inquiry, as a sort of organizational form, tracks concrete aspects of the life of the university worker. Nature of work, wages (even where there are none!), time taken, work conditions in the university, fees, how students manage to pay them (or don’t), and how these relate to the segmentation of university workers. Most central, the imposition of work, resistance to it (in everyday forms as well as movemental, collective ones), and the question of control or refusal of work. The paper records these inquiries, and with these we return to the workers, seeking to continue our conversations, and hoping that more, which do not even include us, would germinate from here.

  1. What have been your most notable achievements in your organizing work? What are your most significant challenges in organizing a rank-and-file education workers movement in Delhi?

There are two ways to look at The University Worker’s ‘organization’, and subsequently, how we can understand ‘achievement’. The first is in terms of the group of people it consists of. From when we started a year ago, we have grown a bit in number, and most of us have stayed on, with no real internal splits. Problems which have arisen (around the carrying out of our activities, informal hierarchies, and so on) are being worked through as a constant part of the process. Our own understanding of ‘workers’ inquiry’ in the university and ‘student as worker’ evolved through both inquiry and the discussions we have had around it over the last year, changing our political perspective on everyday experience, work conditions and relations, and struggles of university workers. So the paper has led to our own political development.

The second way to look at the ‘organization’ is the one we have discussed earlier. The paper itself is our way of organizing. Given this way of organizing, which does not aim at recruitment or mobilization for a party, most of our achievements are not tangible in that sense. Rather than ‘organizing’ in the sense of creating new, stable, bigger organizations, we aim to create a discourse through both the process of inquiry and distribution. One achievement, in this sense, is the bringing out of seven issues as of now, and their sustained distribution in different universities. We have widened our distribution, and there are increasing numbers of people in the university who have begun to recognize the paper.

Another achievement has been our relative success in addressing segmentation. This happens in the practice of inquiry itself, with every report being a mark of a dialogue between two workers located in specific work-spaces in the university; the dialogue is implicitly, often visibly political, and has the potential to push each person involved. We draw links between different segments of workers in different locations, and recognize-represent links. Over the 7 issues, reports have come out of conversations with students, teachers, administrative staff, rickshaw-pullers, construction workers, etc. We have no illusions about having started dialogues between these segments, but our practice has certainly brought out these segmentations as defining the space of the university; which means that politics will have to begin by addressing them.

To this end, we have discussed and are trying to institute a practice best described as a “general assembly”. The general assembly enacts at higher level, the logic that the inquiry and the newspaper too embody: channels of communications between workers, channels which will bring out internal segmentation, and accelerate internal struggles. Twice a month we gather together with comrades from Zero History (another group we mentioned earlier) in the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus – our little experiment with the idea of general assembly. However, we are aware that so far this is far from what a general assembly will be, we being composed solely of teachers, students, and research assistants.

“Rank and file” implies leaders. We do not understand the university, or workplaces more generally, in these terms. All segments of workers are differently located in the university system, but are still part of it as workers who produce knowledge and (skilled, disciplined) labor for the market. We see all sections of people working in the university, including ourselves, as ‘university workers’, and try to understand working conditions and experiences from the various specified locations within the university.

The practice of worker’s inquiry among different segments of the workers poses several challenges. While we have to recognize and be conscious of the political lens through which we undertake inquiry, we also have to ensure that this understanding is not imposed on other workers’ reports, such that their own political understanding of their work is disregarded. So we have to re-shape our own ideas in light of reports; we have to try and understand different experiences of work in the university system, which diverge from our own. For example we have often had to rethink student experiences in the classroom in light of their expectations and aspirations from the university, which are often very different from our own as individuals.

One manoeuvre that our paper attempts is to present different kinds of university struggle vis-à-vis struggles happening in the factory and in other spaces. Often one sees that university struggles echo struggles happening elsewhere, corresponding issues are addressed, etc. Keeping this in mind, an achievement that can be mentioned here is that late last year, members of The University Worker together with comrades from Zero History initiated a second workers’ inquiry project in Wazirpur, an industrial area in North Delhi. We began by distributing copies of Faridabad Workers News (FMS) and used these to start conversations. Then, once we had enough reports to fill two sides of a newssheet, we began taking our own paper (Wazirpur Majdoor) there. This project is in its early days (we have just printed our second issue) but already connections are emerging, conversations are beginning to open up. As workers, solidarity across spaces is obviously an important concern. In Wazirpur, despite being perceived, by default, as student activists coming in to ‘organise’ the workers, we have often been able to connect with workers over the common condition of contractualisation, and over the question of how to sustain a strike.

This experience in turn informs our other activities. After all, we are not focusing on the university in order to engage with the particularities of the university workers alone. On the contrary, we want to relate this particular moment of the collective worker, the university worker, to other moments, and in that, draw out possibilities of collective struggle against the generalized imposition of the law of value.

Q4. Your website explains that “The paper, in addition to instituting an enquiry into present conditions, explores past scenes of battle, keeping alive its strategies by re-reading them in the context of the present.” Our paper is inspired by a quote from working class intellectual Martin Glaberman who says: “If you’re on a college campus then that’s where you are. The idea that you going into a factory is going to make a significant difference to the working class is nonsense. That you can support workers’ strikes as an intellectual sure. Concretely I think that one of the most important things is some kind of press. Even if it starts out as just a little newsletter that shares ideas, that discusses ideas, that presents experiences.” We both seem to be getting at the same point: a fighting working class movement must be self-conscious; it must know itself and its history. Can you elaborate on exactly how your paper aspires to do this?

Identifying and discussing struggles from the past has been important for us in terms of providing us the vocabulary and the tools to formulate our inquiry. However, our focus has been on “re-reading” them from the point of view of the present context, by asking in what ways can these inquiries help us understand the university today. Some of the struggles and inquiries from the past have been discussed by us in our reading group meetings.

Having said that, we do not see the paper as a consciousness raising tool that we as student/intellectuals will use to raise awareness about working class oppression and thereby ‘help’ the ‘workers’ build a movement around it. Instead the paper tries to move away from any such understanding of the student as a part of a privileged section of society, and from the view that students’ role in the revolution is that of playing the media. We see the student as a worker just like a teacher or a non-teaching staff member in the university or a factory worker outside the university; but because of its unpaid nature, the labour a student performs goes unrecognized.

Consciousness raising is not the work of an outsider, rather consciousness is produced through inquiry. Workers talk to other workers about work and resistance to work, and the paper, like the inquirer participates in this process. We see the paper also as a tool for establishing a dialogue between workers within the university, keeping in mind the different segments into which the working class is divided within this space, with the idea that each space is constituted by labour-capital interaction and antagonism, and that capital’s control is not always already established. The everyday is constituted by a struggle between the imposition and refusal of work. The paper seeks to draw this out, tries to understand the everyday of the university not only in its relation to capital, but also in relation to workers’ resistance to work: in many reports workers will speak of these instances.

Even as we recognize and record experiences of the everyday in the university, we simultaneously also explore the way in which in this everydayness we become workers (as teachers, cleaners, students, researchers, clerks, etc.) and how the university as a space participates in the production/reproduction of value. Insofar as this is the case, we, as insiders to the social factory, need not think of our work as that of extending “outside support” to striking workers elsewhere. We express solidarity by struggling in our own workspaces. Solidarity can only extended after recognizing that we, like industrial workers, occupy another site of production-reproduction.

We borrow much from the experiences of the Italian Autonomists, the Operaismo, etc. What we find particularly useful is the notion of the “Social Factory”. This concept allows us to rethink working class strategy as not limited to the factory floor, something which is essential now that the advancement of the general intellect has led to the absorption of sites of reproduction much more directly into the circuits of capital. It is using this notion that we escape what we think to be the useless binaries of waged-unwaged, productive-unproductive work. Our study circle explores these ideas, and we try to contextualize them for our work.

Why the university? After all, one observes the similar processes in often more intensified forms elsewhere.

You say: “If you’re on a college campus then that’s where you are. The idea that you going into a factory is going to make a significant difference to the working class is nonsense.” For the most part we agree with this line of thinking, and so, firstly, there is no true site/space of class-struggle. We organise where we are. Secondly, perhaps we also need to think about the relevance of the university space in the context of today’s capitalism, in which cognitive labor plays a much more elaborate role than it used to. Capital cannot survive without the labour of workers trained in universities; engineers, lawyers, accountants, managers, IT professionals, social workers etc. Does the emergence of what Bifo Berardi calls the cognitariat (both the chain and the brain workers) change the relevance of the university? There is no need to overemphasize our case, but at the very least we must rethink the university as a site of class-struggle in today’s capitalism. The composition of the working class today – the centrality of cognitive labour and the simultaneous proletarianization of academic labor — must transform our strategy.

  1. The situations in Canada and India may have some similarities, but we are obviously organizing in significantly different contexts. While we’ve drawn inspiration from the 2012 Quebec student strike and the limited successes of the Chicago Teachers Union, we also face the reality of austerity on all fronts and can point to dozens of defeated public sector struggles. What is the lay of the land in India?

India has also seen disinvestment in the public enterprises and especially in the social sector, most markedly since 1991. The change may not seem as pronounced as it is in Canada, but that is greatly because the levels of government investment in the public sector in India were not as high as those in Canada. In addition to disparities connected to gender and caste, 30% of India’s population is still illiterate. School education was not a fundamental right in India till 2009; of course, as is the case with most such guarantees, this new right has not changed anything really. Not even 50% of the children of school-going age are enrolled. Less than a quarter of 16-17 year olds in the country go to high school. At the top of this ugly pyramid, only 8% of those in the relevant age group (18-23 years) enter any form of higher education. This 8% (140 million) of the total population of 1.02 billion is who we address chiefly in our newspaper. All of this goes to highlight the need to extend beyond the university into other education-related workspaces.

We do not have nationwide statistics on employees in higher education. But the nature of work and levels of pay are visible in the data that we collected in this brief period. Disparities exist between government funded and private institutions, and even within government-funded institutions. Those holding professorial posts are part of the highest level of white-collar professionals; these have always been a minority and their ratio is decreasing. These posts are fewer and fewer every year. Lower down the ladder, a vast percentage of assistant professors are temporary workers with very short contracts. Currently, Delhi University is functioning with 4000 ad-hoc teachers (akin to adjuncts in Canada/USA) who have no security benefits and no leaves; they are appointed on four-month contracts, and most have to attend scores of interviews at the end of each semester. There is also a vast number of “guest lecturers” who get paid by the hour. Contractualization impacts clerks, and housekeeping and security staff too. In the past teaching may have been a safe profession, offering many privileges, but we are looking at steady proletarianization that is leveling differences between segments of university workers. Delhi University is a central university (in India the state governments have a degree of autonomy vis-à-vis the union government, so states have state universities, and in addition to these there are some central universities funded directly by the union government), so the condition of contract teachers is relatively better here (though not good by any means!). We know of teachers in state universities who earn as little as Rs.5000 (about 100 Canadian dollars) monthly for teaching a hundred or so hours. There are university security guards who earn more. The point being that our notions of how the working class in the university is segmented will have to change.

There are inter-university segmentations and hierarchies – between public and private universities, between universities run by the Central government and those run by State governments. Fees, facilities, and prestige attached vary sharply across these divides. Traditionally a state-funded university would be substantially cheaper than a private university, but with disinvestment and “public-private partnership” models, this is changing. Public universities are becoming more expensive at an alarming rate.

Struggles within and around the university highlight existing segmentations. In 2006 when the scope of caste-based affirmative action (reservations) was increased from 27% to 50% of the seats (although the share in the population of these social groups is estimated at 75%), there were very violent revolts by upper caste students and teachers. Moreover, somewhat like Quebec, the language question is central to student life here. English is the predominant medium of instruction. There are around 30 official languages across the different states, but adequate attention is not paid to developing learning-teaching material in these languages. The diversity in languages that students speak is even greater. Day-to-day existence in the university becomes a struggle for many students; the curriculum another battle.

Various rationalizing processes are underway in higher education today – the semesterization of courses, and the standardization of syllabi are some of the mechanisms being employed. Every aspect of university work is being quantified. The credit system, familiar to most in the West, is being introduced. Courses are being restructured in a direction that can only be called deskilling. The syllabi and course structures have seen inexplicable (from an academic perspective) and rapid changes in the past three years. Several courses, fairly useless, we, along with the vast majority of students would contend, have been imposed upon students. The idea seems to be to impart certain basic skills, and no more. The degree a student possesses only plays the role of reproducing segmentation in the labour market and has no value in itself. Literature graduates work as copy-editors, earning no more than low level clerks. Teachers now get employed on the basis of points gained by publishing, teaching, attending seminars and by doing administrative work. There are smaller issues connected to each of these larger changes that we will ignore for the time being.

Although we do address these changes in our practice, we have sought to steer clear of tendencies that romanticize some idea of the university that has to be defended against the incursions of the market. Our emphasis continues to be on the lack of control that students, teachers, and other segments of workers in the university have over their work and workplace. When we engage with questions of imposed changes, we still foreground these structural issues.

  1. As your paper has pointed out, sectionalism and stratification in the education industry are major issues and barriers for organizing. Students, cleaners, teachers, food service workers and many others are required for the universities to run. Both our publications endorse a “wall to wall” industrial model – bringing all the workers in a given institution together to maximize their power. Do you have thoughts on how this can be done concretely?
  2. Universities are contested spaces – they are neither completely elite institutions nor fully working class ones. How should radicals in the universities deal with this tension?

We would like to address the last two questions together. Firstly, what is work and how does one define a worker in relation to the university space? This will allow us to better address the conflict you indicate (elite-working class) as well as the question of stratification/segmentation.


A widely accepted definition of the worker would include anyone who works for monetary compensation (or wage); in the university that encapsulates administrative staff, teachers (tenured and contractual), janitors, etc. In addition to the complications of caste and gender, race and nationality, the university has its own specific forms of segmentation within these paid workers. The care-worker (cooks and cleaners), and even the administrative-worker are easier to fit within the definition of a worker because their work is more obviously alienating, they are paid less than teachers (although as we have demonstrated, this is not always true). The primary form of labour in the university – academic labour – is said to be an elite form of labour. The teacher is paid much more, and commands, usually, more cultural capital too. Even the teacher would not usually call herself a worker; so the usual label of petty-bourgeois/middle class.


Does the current reality within the university really support this notion? The obvious and large-scale proletarianization of a large portion of the teaching workforce across the world has changed matters. The pay is not that high, the work is as gruelling, often more, jobs are insecure, and the loans taken during student years big. The segmentation between the teaching worker and the other paid workers in the university are breaking down. Proletarianization is what allows the new teacher to identify with even the industrial worker. The manner in which the working class is being recomposed by capital in the university is the condition of possibility for new relations between various kinds of workers in the university.


Another reason why universities are thought of as elite spaces is because their largest constituents, the students, are seen to be a privileged lot – only a few can afford a university education. The class position of a student is believed to be determined by her/his family. Also, we are used to seeing students either as commodities that the university produces or consumers who consume services that the university offers. Hence, most students are middle class, although some do come from working-class backgrounds – that is the belief. But if we were to understand class position on the basis of the place a person occupies in the production process, like we think it ought to be understood, then how would we place the student? If the university performs two broad social functions – production of knowledge and (re)production of labour power – then what is the student’s place in it? The production of knowledge through teaching and research is not possible without students (not just research degree students but even undergraduate students contribute to knowledge-production). If the university reproduces labour power, the work that is needed, the hours that have to be spent are spent not just by teachers and care-workers but also students. Without the students’ labour, the labour of teachers, administrative workers, care-workers, etc. will not reach fruition, because workers will not be (re)produced. Here the definition of the worker that we began with runs into a problem. The student is not paid a wage, therefore s/he is not thought of as a worker. Does the lack of a wage mean that they are not workers even though their labour is essential for capital? Rather, just as in the case of housewives, the students too can be thought of as unwaged workers. In the university, the student-worker produces herself as labour; or makes herself employable for capital. Seen as a factory, what the university produces through the range of its practice, are workers who (most often) willingly enter what one might call a long unwaged internship.


Even if one were to theoretically recognise the possibility of thinking of the student as a worker, what is the political usefulness of this theorization? One problem that we face while engaging with student experience is that students are here in the university only for a few years, and so will not be very invested in its problems or in struggles against its problems. This manner of thinking of student years derives from the fact that for students reality/life lies elsewhere, in the future, outside the university. Life is not in the university, it is what the university prepares you for. In our newspaper we explore the life and working experiences of workers currently working in various industries that the university feeds. It is the continuity of the imposition of work, alienation, stealing of time which begins (“begins” is really a figure of speech, for it actually always already begun!) at the university and is an aspect of life under capitalism in general, that we think can break the illusion of the temporariness of the problems of the university. The university is a kind of originary moment; the problems the student learns to live with are problems that constitute life under capitalism. Another political usefulness of the idea can be deduced from all that has been said so far: this conceptualization helps understand the student as one segment of the same working class as teachers, janitors, peons, etc.


The student-worker too of course is internally segmented. Obviously, not all students are the same. In India there are various kinds of schools and universities which further segment an already segmented student body. They introduce new forms of segmentation and reproduce already existing ones. For example a person from a backward socio-economic background is more likely to attend a polytechnic than an engineering college; in the specific kind of segmentation the university system produces (technician and engineer) is reproduced an already existing segmentation (caste-class).


Notwithstanding differences among students there is an all-encompassing and universal imposition of work with almost no regard to the specificity of one’s experience. The university works with a homogenous notion of the “student”. With the massification of Indian universities over the last few decades, conflicts and contestations that brew under the surface of this apparent homogeneity have become visible. The 5th issue dealt with the university’s inability to recognise gender specificities, which make the imposition of a standardised exam-regime a violent suppression of difference. Further, socio-economic inequalities between student-workers ensures that their capacities to engage with course-work and syllabi differ widely, based on how much time and mental energy they expend in order to reproduce themselves physically. It is very common for students here to be working for a wage to make ends meet even as they attend the university. A student with higher cultural capital is in any case unfairly privileged and finds the curriculum much easier. Add to that the disadvantaged student’s need to work, and the gap becomes immense.

As is clear by now, we understand class as a relational category and not as a sociological (Weberian) one. Which is to say that class is not an identity, rather class positions are determined in relation to the capital-labor contradiction. A person’s income does not adequately identify him/her as a worker/capitalist, etc., although admittedly it is a marker that cannot be ignored. For example, while a male worker occupies the position of a worker in the factory, as surplus value is extracted from him, the same man effectively becomes an agent of capital when through him unwaged labor (housework) is extracted from the housewife. Both the wife and the male industrial worker are moments of the collective worker, but they are also segments embroiled in internal strife. The contestations you mention in your question, we would look upon as the necessary struggle between segments of the working class, the contestations that your question perhaps implied are seen by us as contestations of the different segments of the working class. Segmentation of workers is an essential form of capital’s operations; capital introduces new segmentations based on the technico-social division of labor, and it transforms existing differences into lines of segmentation. Instead of saying that we need to end internal difference to struggle, we would argue that one struggles against capital through struggling against segmentation. If the working class is the agent of revolutionary change and each site of the social factory needs to be thought in terms of working class intervention, then the university too is a site for such intervention. The collective worker also comes to the university, and in the university the collective worker is differentiated into a student, a teacher, administrator, etc.

This leads us to think of a political form that aims at destroying segmentation, and to that end foregrounds it. One of The University Worker’s principal functions is to collectively comprehend how different work processes can be seen through a consistent lens, or try to break through the walls of segmentation, behind which one is a mechanised surplus-value producer. Conflicts between segments of students, between students and teachers (to name a few) can play out here. This is the way we think a conscious recomposition can become possible and the possibility of engagements with workers at other sites opens up. The newspaper-inquiry-general assembly constitute the form we are beginning to consider adequate to our struggle.












The Problem of Accommodation – TISS, Mumbai

I am an M Phil student at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. The institute has a severe paucity of hostels. Usually hostels are only provided on priority basis mostly to students who are in second year of MA and M. Phil. Rental accommodations nearby are extremely expensive. 6000 per person for a room shared by 2 people is the average. These accommodations are unfurnished and are located in areas which are not considered very safe. For a relatively safe rental accommodation which has all the basic facilities, students have to pay around 13000­14000 for a shared room. Library is open through the night. However, for students who live outside the campus, the luxury of working in the library at night is not present since they have to return to their homes. Since classes go on for the entire day and the institute mandates the M Phil and PhD scholars to come everyday and sign the attendance register so that they can get their monthly scholarship of 3000 (Yes we still get 3000 and not 5000), atleast 2 meals have to be had in the college mess. Going back home and cooking is out of question. Most students therefore pay a sum of 3000 as ‘Mess Membership’ in addition to their rent for the college mess. For many students paying 3000 per month is not possible. After all the monthly stipend is only 3000! The college mess apart from being very expensive is also not a place where everyone wants to eat. Students often complain about undercooked chhapatis and tasteless dal. There is the option of purchasing tokens for each meal and not paying 3000 for the month. These tokens cost 40­45 rupees per meal. Eventually these students(non members) also spend almost Rs.100 on food each day. For such students, food is served in a separate room. Chicken and salad are not served to them. Finding vegetarian mess members and asking them to pick up chicken from the serving bowls is a common practice which non members resort to.

Living Wage for All Researchers-Living Wage for All Workers!

OCCUPY UGC ON 26th OCT, 2 PM ‪#‎occupyugc‬ ‪#‎livingwageforallresearchers‬ ‪#‎livingwageforallworkers‬

As the protest against withdrawal of stipends provided to researchers moved into its 3rd day, students who were occupying the University Grants Commission (UGC) were detained by CRPF at 6 in the morning. They were then taken to Bhalaswa Dairy police station. Earlier, ABVP students pelted stones at the protesting students inside the UGC office. In support and to continue the protest another call was made to gather at the UGC office that was to culminate with a protest at 5 in the evening at Jantar Mantar.

What happened later during the day has happened quite often. UGC office was completely barricaded off by the police against which the students struggled. As the students broke the barricades, a brief lathi charge led to a couple of students being badly injured. As a follow up measure, voices came up to chakka jam (road block) the main ITO road against those who called for a sit-down to wait for a round of conversation with the UGC authorities. Ultimately, on the basis of a referendum, the chakka jam won. Due to pressure from the Delhi police, the road block didn’t last long. The students eventually settled to protest on the other side of UGC building while still cordoned off by the barricades. ABVP came to limelight again as a bunch of them were seen protesting with the same demands, albeit with a tweak. The police detained them, but unlike the morning detention, they were let off after the bus had merely travelled for 30 metres or so.

After this, in the course of the protest, a pattern that we have seen quite often now repeated itself. The language of “rising fascism” and “Modi Sarkar” began to dominate the question of continuation and increase in non-NET fellowship for researchers – a main concern of the protest. This rhetoric made connections, jumps rather, with fascist Modi government, communalization, etc. This in not to say that the main issue had been completely forgotten; students continued to raise their immediate concern. This language even connected the issue of stipends to living expenditures, research students working part-time outside course work to make up their living costs, etc.

Perhaps, just to say that research scholars demand the stipend back or even to go a step further and demand a stipend sufficient for subsistence, and for basic living is not enough to generalize the students struggle beyond the university. But is it possible to generalise using a liberal language vis-a-vis the university? In effect, this protest too had to borrow the language of anti-communalism- a language that is not of class struggle. It subtracts all mention of labour, capital and workers, and directs us back to fighting merely police repression, or merely this government. This language only seems to have a potential to maneuver the already happening struggle onto other grounds of struggle; in fact, it sidelines the issues of the students in the university. Why is it that students or university issues don’t have a language of their own that will allow a more real basis for generalization, and will simultaneously account for the specificities of student struggles? What if rather than the language based on invoking communal fears, the protest starts asking questions about why the university (and society) need and yet invisibilize researchers’ labour, and from there progress onto questions of a living wage for all segments of the university?

We need to learn from the ongoing struggle of the Anganwadi workers. They are asserting their right to a wage as “workers”. No radical force will deny that the ‘volunteer’ status of anganwadi workers – which means they used to get paid an honorarium much below the minimum wage of “workers” – was rooted in the notions of work that refused to see reproductive work as “work”. To top it all, these women are said to be doing tasks “natural” to them, and hence are seen as less deserving of a wage. No radical force will deny their claim to being workers.

To research is not just to consume knowledge it is also to produce knowledge. The student is also part of production of knowledge-commodities- research papers, seminars, theses and conferences. Research students, even more so. Universities – private and public – all brand and sell themselves on the basis of research work and the number of high-level degrees and alumni. In that case, are they not also key to a university’s production? Are they not workers?

The question of the fellowship needs to be seen as a question of a wage, i.e. a wage in return for the work that a researcher contributes to the knowledge-productions chains of her university. This is needed for us to reproduce ourselves – to live. And, it needs to be seen as a question of a living wage – a wage sufficient for all social needs – not just to pay for fees, hostels and books, but to live comfortably.

The struggle to be recognized as workers, as in the case of the Anganwadi, is in order to be able to struggle against that work collectively. What the defensive struggle today proves is that the research student needs this stipend to reproduce her labor power. Insofar as the taking away of the stipend further immiserates the researcher, the struggle to defend the stipend, i.e. the struggle to be recognized as a worker, is actually a struggle against immiseration. By controlling our wages and stipends, capital controls our reproduction, our work, our lives. In this struggle the researcher potentially realises her worker-hood, and is trying to force the state to recognise that all researchers are workers who must get a decent living wage. This is an essential moment of the struggle against wage-slavery. The movement needs to decide if the enemy is (un)wage-slavery as a whole or just the fascist moment of capital.

And why should research scholars be privileged? They shouldn’t be! Everyone deserves a living wage. Insofar as this is a struggle against immiseration, it is important for us to recognize the possibilities of joint struggle in the university with others who face similar situations. Clerks, housekeeping, canteen, electrical and maintenance staff, especially those on outsourced contracts have all recently suffered wage cuts, some getting less than minimum wage. The generalized attack produces the opportunity for generalized struggle.

Let the university shut down
Let’s all strike
Let’s all get what we want!
We need to turn this defensive situation into an attack –
A decent living wage for all!

Living Wage for all Researchers!

On 7th Oct. the UGC decided to scrap the Non NET Fellowship from the next academic year. This fellowship provides the much needed monthly stipend of 5000 and 8000 to MPhil and PhD students respectively, and is applicable to all research students who are not covered by any other fellowship. Other than this, the UGC provides the JRF fellowship which covers a minority of the total students who qualify the NET. While not confirmed, it appears likely that given the existing UGC fellowships, and the scrapping of the Non NET fellowship, there will be no financial support for the majority of research students, barring those who qualify for JRF and a handful of other fellowships.
This news came out on 20th Oct (the UGC failed to broadcast the decision), via newspapers. Students in Delhi and Hyderabad have organised protests. The Hyderabad Student Union has demanded the reinstatement of the Fellowship with higher stipends. A demonstration has been organised in the campus.
In Delhi, students from AUD, JNU, DU and JMI went for a demonstration to the UGC office on 21st early evening, breaking into the complex. Talks with UGC officials failed when they made vague offers to review the issue at the next meeting. Students decided to stay the night and occupy the UGC complex till their demands are met, and this occupation is ongoing. Primarily, 4 demands have emerged: Reinstatement of the non-NET Fellowship; increased stipend given the price rise; its application in all Central and State universities; and the more general call to stop differential treatment of students and the privatisation of education. Students have also been demanding increased stipends prior to this decision.
Given that many families can’t/won’t fund research work, students who undertake MPhil and PhD are forced to do paid work alongside, increasing their working hours immensely. The demands on researchers are extremely rigorous as it is, and there is the addition of paid work, reproducing oneself, and in many cases, one’s family (either monetarily or in terms of housework). Paid work at this level is also short-term: 3 month to 1 year long contracts, resulting in the added insecurity of getting a sustained wage. On top of this, we have to pay the university!
In the university, the research scholar is clearly a worker, something both the state, and to an extent the research scholar does not recognise. Fieldwork and theses crucially feed into the cycle of knowledge production. Rather than being paid for our work in producing knowledge, we are forced to do unwaged work in the hope of securing a decent paying job sometime in the future. The system progressively eliminates those who do not have the means to remain unpaid researchers/students at each level of education. Rather than providing decent housing, and proper stipends, the burden of reproducing ourselves to work is being shifted onto us, heightening insecurity and precarity of research work.
This is an interesting moment of time in the university. Because this tiny stipend was called a fellowship, or a scholarship what was hidden was the fact that it was a wage. What the defensive struggle today proves is that the research student needs this stipend to reproduce her labor power. Insofar as the taking away of the stipend further immiserates the researcher, the struggle to defend the stipend, i.e. the struggle to be recognized as a worker, is actually a struggle against immiseration. In this struggle the researcher potentially realises her worker-hood, and is trying to force the recognition on the state that all researchers are workers who must get a decent living wage– but this is an essential moment of the struggle against wage-slavery.
Furthermore, insofar as this is a struggle against immiseration it is important for us to recognize the possibilities of joint struggle that open up with those others in the university also facing a similar situation. For example only recently the wages of contractual staff at JNU were struck – now they get equal to or less than 12,000. The generalized attack produces the opportunity for generatized struggle. We need to turn this defensive situation into an attack – a decent living wage for all.