Protester, UCL Living Wage Campaign

 

The fact that UCL have agreed to pay the Living Wage before KCL is shameful for us.  Malcolm Grant, Provost of UCL, gave a firm commitment to pay the London Living Wage to all contract staff at University College London on September 28th. Approximately 200 cleaners and catering staff are due to benefit from the introduction of the London Living Wage of £7.85 an hour, many of whom are currently paid £5.80 an hour (the national minimum wage). The decision follows the humiliating coverage that UCL received in the Evening Standard the week before, for initially rejecting to pay the Living Wage whilst Malcolm Grant earned an annual pay package of £404, 742, and the decision of UCL academics to write publicly to Mr Grant urging him to pay the Living Wage.

UCL is the latest London university to sign up for this higher rate of pay – with commitments already made by Queen Mary, London School of Economics, Birkbeck, Goldsmiths, School of Oriental and African Studies, London Business School, Institute of Education and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.  It is a travesty that King’s College London has not joined the community of Living Wage employers yet.

I was at the CitizensUK Youth Assembly when I saw competing universities of KCL being acknowledged as LW employers. It was frustrating for me.

 

Students and staff at KCL have been campaigning for a Living Wage since 2008.  It is a disgrace that some of the staff at our university are not earning the basic wage needed to survive in London.  It makes good business sense and it is the right thing to do.  If our university wants to live up to being an ethical institute and ‘creating a healthy society, in every sense of the word – body, mind and spirit’, the first place to start is within the university walls.

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‘Samsui’ Woman

May 28, 2010

When I was travelling in Singapore, I came across this sculpture:

This was outside a restaurant in China Town.  I was absolutely intrigued by it.

So, when I visited the Asian Civilisations Museum, I was keen to found out more.  Apparently, it seemed as though it was a commemoration of Samsui women: these were Chinese immigrants who came to Singapore between the 1920s and the 1940s in search of construction and industrial jobs around the Singapore River.  This was significant, as traditionally, women did not get involved in these occupations.

Before arriving in Singapore, most Samsui women took vows never to marry. They lived in cramped conditions with other Samsui women, helping out each other and forming tightly united cliques. Usually wore blue garments and iconic red headdress.

Quite a sorority!  The testimonies of these women were quite inspirational, and I admire the courage they had to defy cultural conventions, in order to work.

 

You would think that with the increase in tuition fees, travel costs and high levels of redundancy, students would be the first ones at the polling stations.  It is hardly unreasonable to claim that KCL students have every right to express their wrath with regards to the MP’s expenses scandal.  How many normal people would be able to claim for the expenses of clearing a moat, as Douglas Hogg did?  What ordinary Joe Blog would be petulant enough to make a ridiculous claim for a duck house or Hobnobs?  Whilst the Government bails out the bankers, universities are forced to make cuts.  KCL students in particular ought to know what this means- just talk to any student or staff from the engineering department.  However, despite all of this, there is political apathy and lack of student activism, with regards to the Strand Campus in particular, which I find disconcerting.  We had the student elections a couple of weeks ago: how many people bothered to vote?  In fact, I am not aware that anyone handed me a leaflet to vote for them, I don’t recall anyone with badges or rosettes and megaphones.  In fact, were there any hustings or a platform for us to actually engage and question candidates over their manifestos?  Of course, there have been fantastic posters and campaigning via facebook and twitter.  I am fully aware that voting online has made the process far more practical.  Yet the worrying thing for me is that many students hardly care.

Perhaps this is because the British population as a whole are indifferent to politics.  The common reasoning being that ‘they are all the same’ anyway.  When we hear interviews that politicians give, like the infamous one by Sir Nicholas Winterton who claimed that MP’s had the right to claim for first class rail travel, because people in standard-class carriages were a ‘different type of people’ who would ‘peer over his shoulder’, it is not churlish of people to think that politicians are unrepresentative.  Being sceptical of politicians is a thoroughly British sentiment anyway: we’re all wandering how convenient it is that Samantha Cameron is pregnant during her husband’s election campaign, or how Gordon Brown became all sentimental in that Piers Morgan interview, and well, sceptical of Nick Clegg in general.

Nevertheless, it can be argued that there is so much at stake on May 6th.  Recent polls are close and there is a growing possibility of there being a hung parliament.  It is hard to miss the extra effort that the main parties are putting in to pull in the voters and sway the floater voters.  It won’t work, but it’s a good try.  Whether it’s the first American style television debates, or through the ‘alternative elections’ via twitter, Facebook and YouTube or the commentary on the frocks of the wives, it is impossible to ignore the elections.

So what I cannot fathom is why students are so indifferent?  This will be the first General Election that I will be voting in, as is the case for most undergraduates.  At the time of writing this, the main parties have announced their manifestos- all of which will probably affect us now or in the near future.  Surely that’s an incentive?

On the other hand, perhaps the student population have been made to be apathetic by the politicians themselves.  For how long should we endure those damned lies, broken promises, illegal wars…the list of deception goes on.  In addition, perhaps the rosy days of a vibrant and active student population are over.  Yes, we are no longer in the 1960’s and some of us need to part-time jobs, and simply do not have the time to go to meetings or campaign.  But if that is the case, that is a dire indictment of society.  It won’t resolve anything if we sit in a bubble and do nothing!  The youth are meant to be the movers and shakers and initiating change.  It was the youth in South Africa that challenged Apartheid in the Soweto uprising, June 16th 1976.  It was the students that made the first public protests against the Vietnam War.  And yes, at KCL we also have the capability to be active and make a stand against injustice, as was seen last year when students protested against the War in Gaza.

Earlier this year, I was in Chapters and a guy who wanted to be a student councillor asked me what issues are concerning me.  I explained that I was worried that there was not enough accountability- there ought to be frequent meetings with the Sabbatical Officers.  Annual General Meetings are not enough.  Students from different societies and clubs should be able to interact and engage more, so perhaps we ought to have stalls on a Wednesday afternoon in the car park to provide a vibrant atmosphere.  Also, there should be hustings.  His only response: ‘Oh, you know what hustings are?’  I think that sums it all.