The following short guide was written by FACE activists and posted on the FACE Campaign Wiki. This is a free resource for information on local anti-casualisation campaigns, open to and editable by all. Please register an account and add information about your own institution, or edit and expand what’s already there, including the guide below. You can also add your institution or campaign to the following editable map (click to open in a new window).
1. Get organised
The first step to getting a local anti-casualisation campaign off the ground is gathering a group of activists and supporters. This isn’t always easy but there are a few obvious starting point for this:
- Your friends—Persuading busy people that they want to be involved with a potentially time-consuming campaign is challenging. So start with the “Low-hanging fruit”. The people at work you have a personal relationship with, who have experience of the same working conditions as you, who you sit around your department with moaning about work, are often the best place to start when it comes to getting organised.
- The union—Your local UCU branch might have an “anti-casualisation rep”, they’ll definitely have a members list, including hopefully a list of all their casualised worker members.
- The student union—Your institution’s postgraduate student rep will usually be sympathetic to PhDs working for the university and might already be dealing with some of their work-related problems. Also, they can email every postgrad at the university.
- Activist groups—Free Education campaigns, workers’ rights campaigns (like Justice for Cleaners and stuff like that), and other activist groups and left-wing groups will probably know a few people who are going to be interested in a workers’ rights campaigns.
- Events—If your UCU branch is having a meeting, going on strike or having a demo, come along and see who you can meet and get involved in your campaign. Picket lines in particular are a great place to meet dissatisfied staff!
- National events—You often meet people from your own institution at things like UCU casualised staff conferences and national FACE meetings.
Once you get a few people together it’s important to move fast. Casualised staff are by their nature transient (if you work September to June, by January if it’s almost too late). As soon as you make a few contacts get an informal meeting together to discuss the issues that matter to you and to plan your next move. Set up an email list (try Google Groups) to discuss things online. Then think about setting up a Facebook account, drawing up a leaflet and posters, then organising a public meeting to see what other contacts you can make.
2. Get informed
Once you’ve brought people together and discussed your respective situations, it’s important to gather some data to back up your case. This can be done in two main ways: (1) by talking to your colleagues; (2) by talking to the university. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.
If you have a relatively large group of interested colleagues, try conducting a survey about their working conditions. Create an anonymous survey using an online service such as SurveyMonkey. What you ask will depend on the nature of your dispute, but you might include questions about the following: type of contract; rate of pay; if hourly-paid, number of hours contracted for; number of hours actually worked in a given time period (e.g. a week). Don’t get too hung up on issues such as sample size—getting people to fill out even a relatively short survey is a lot of work, and while it’s great if you can get statistically watertight data, its propaganda value is just as (if not more) important. To this end, make sure to include a general ‘comments’ section at the end of the survey, which will allow you to collect some juicy qualitative data to go alongside the quantitative results: horror stories are always handy for publicity. For richer information on hours, consider conducting a more formal ‘working diary’ activity with a smaller group, in which everyone agrees to record their hours worked for a week.
Contacting your employer directly can be a good way to get a bigger picture of working conditions, e.g. the total number of employees on a certain type of contract, allowing you to drill down into specific departments or groups using surveys. While you may have some success requesting information informally, it’s likely that you’ll need to use Freedom of Information (FoI) requests. Unfortunately, there are a number of exemptions in the FoI Act which universities are able to use to avoid providing information. If your request is too broad, the university will either refuse it on the grounds that it would cost more than £450 to fulfill (Section 12) or point out that the information is available from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Section 21). If it concerns their competitiveness as an institution (e.g. in the case of employment practices), they may also refuse it on grounds of commercial sensitivity (Section 43). So keep your requests specific and targeted, and be prepared to argue your case. Bear in mind that FoI requests can take a long time to fulfill (usually 20 working days, with amendments or clarifications treated as new requests)—factor delays into your campaign plans.
To avoid duplicating effort, make sure to get in touch with your UCU branch before starting on the leg-work of surveys and FoIs—they may already have much of the data that you need, or at least something that can be used as a basis for further investigation. The level of solidarity with casualised staff will, however, vary from institution to institution, so don’t feel beholden to your branch committee’s view of the situation: take cues from your immediate colleagues and their problems, and work from there.
3. Get the word out
Once you feel you have a clear picture of what working conditions in general—and any specific grievances that might crop up, say in particular departments or particular types of work—you need to get as many people involved in your campaign as possible.
This means getting people who are on those contracts involved:
- Talk to your colleagues
- Where can you find them? They may be fragmented
- Again, the union may be helpful
- Think about what you are asking them to get involved with. Be specific, but not necessarily too specific or promise too much action too soon: you don’t want to scare people off
It also means as many people as possible who might support (though these are less valuable if you don’t have any active colleagues, so concentrate on them first). This could include students, but more useful is permanent colleagues. You might have an idea of who’s sympathetic from staff meetings etc. Start with them.
Think about what you’re driving towards? Has your information gathering thrown up a clear demand that is generalisable across the institution? Or alternatively, is there scope for a specific campaign in one part of the institution, like one department? Is marking not paid? Does one department pay significantly less preparation time than another? You don’t necessarily have to push to confront everything at the first go. A successful campaign on a limited demand will build momentum for more, more succesful than a larger campaign that fizzes out or never gets going.
- Door knocking (especially if you can get lists of casual staff)
- A big meeting
- Once you have a demand, a petition?
If your information-gathering has thrown up some newsworthy figures, draft a press release and send it out to reporters at local papers, education editors at the nationals, and dedicated publications like Times Higher Education. If you know relevant journalists personally and the story is good enough, contact them first to offer an exclusive. Get in touch with FACE, too, and we’ll try to disseminate your story far and wide!