1980s >> 1980 >> no-906-february-1980

Briefing lessons for the lecturers

Back from the Christmas break many University lecturers found disturbing news to greet them. ‘Freeze on staff vacancies’, ‘compulsory early retirement’ and ‘redundancies’ were among the economy measures announced by their institutions to meet the shortfall in funds caused by the recent wave of government spending cuts.

This is a remarkable turn around since the early ’60s when the economy was booming and much money was being poured into the recruitment of university staff. ‘Redundancies’ was an idea which would have been laughed off by lecturers as being exclusive to less ‘dignified’ occupations further down the social and economic scale. They had comparatively well-paid jobs which were secure for life-or so they thought. Very few think that today, especially now that their salaries have been seriously eroded by inflation and, without the bargaining power to press their wage claims, they have fallen among the lowest paid of ‘professional’ workers. True their job still retains a certain degree of ‘social status’ but that is little compensation for the threatening shadow of unemployment.

What has happened is that the continuing recession in world trade is forcing governments (in Britain as elsewhere) to limit their investments (in this case investment in manpower) and the direct consequence of this is, as it always has been, unemployment among the working class. For, although they may not have known it in the past. University lecturers are just as much members of the working class as all other people who sell their mental or physical energies for a wage or a salary. Their imagined membership of some fictitious middle or professional class does not make their job situation any more secure than that of workers in “less distinguished” occupations. They are finding, as too for example are medical workers hit by the cuts in the health service, that their skills and status are no proof against a system which, by its very boom-slump nature, ‘decrees’ periodic bouts of unemployment among its workers.

No one knows how long the present recession will last but at the end of it, even if the job situation in Universities starts to ease, lecturers will—we hope—have learnt the lesson that socialists have been teaching for over 75 years—that in a world ruled by commercial considerations no profession is sacrosanct, no job is safe. Perhaps, too, they will see the validity of the socialist case which advocates replacing such a world by one which will not only get rid of job insecurity but will abolish the wages system completely and put human needs first in all departments of life.

Howard Moss