For the first time in years Trinity faces the prospect of industrial action. The current impasse between non-academic staff and College could be ended through a negotiated settlement; however, we cannot ignore the important implications of the policies College has been pursuing. Our article reports claims of an unofficial policy of replacing permanent positions with short or medium term contracts, along with a freeze on promotions and a drive towards “management lead employee evaluations”. Taken together, these measures represent a systemic effort to undermine the status and conditions of non-academic staff, an effort undertaken over the past number of years.
To understand the current situation, it must be placed in the broader context of austerity across the public sector, and in third level institutions in particular. Austerity in the public sector has taken the form of pay cuts, hiring freezes and a move from permanent contracts to temporary ones. The main tool to implement this has been a series of negotiated agreements (Croke Park, Haddington Road, Lansdowne Road) between the government and trade unions — essentially a continuation of the flawed social partnership model.
Austerity has affected those working in Trinity as much as anywhere else, with both academic and non-academic staff being worse off now than a decade ago. Some argue that such measures were necessary during times of recession, but that is not the question here. Rather, we are seeing a slow but steady effort to fundamentally restructure how our university works.
It is the opinion of this paper that we are seeing a creeping privatisation of non-academic work in Trinity. Noam Chomsky writes that “the standard technique of privatization” is to “defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital.”
Some of you have likely used the new gate into College, halfway down Nassau street, that runs past the Berkeley and Ussher library. Perhaps some of you have noticed that there is kiosk there. This kiosk, aimed at tourists, is manned by a member of Noonan Security, a private firm. Why is this important? Because Trinity has its own internal security team.
It is the opinion of this paper that we are seeing a creeping privatisation of non-academic work in Trinity. Noam Chomsky writes that “the standard technique of privatization” is to “defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital.” It is a small step to go from an internal, but casual and temporary workforce to tendered private contracts.
Privatisation of any form would be disastrous for Trinity, replacing the needs of students with profit as the main motivating factor for those companies running non-academic services within College. Taken alone, a widespread policy of temporary contracts will destroy the College community as it currently exists. Rather than permanent jobs where staff get to know each other and students, and become part of the community, we will have individuals whose precarious employment undermines any long term connection.
As much as College likes to sell itself as an experience and community, an institution that seeks learning and education, Dylan Joyce Ahearne is correct in his OpEd that we face an “increasingly grim culture of Trinity’s ever-growing education-industrial complex.”
This fits within a broader move towards a neoliberal university, that churns out students for employment in the corporate world. College board minutes from the 9th of November 2016 state that “a list of the desirable graduate attributes had now been identified and communicated by employers in a consultation process.”
As much as College likes to sell itself as an experience and community, an institution that seeks learning and education, Dylan Joyce Ahearne is correct in his OpEd that we face an “increasingly grim culture of Trinity’s ever-growing education-industrial complex.” These issues – Student fees, slashed pay and conditions, increasingly precarious employment, the constant presence of corporate bodies on campus — are all interlinked and must be fought in tandem.
As students, what can we do? The short answer is to show solidarity with non-academic workers, especially if the conflict escalates to industrial action. We have already seen admirable cooperation between USI and SIPTU, IFUT, IMPACT and the TUI, with trade unionists marching alongside students at the October 19th USI march. TCDSU should stand in solidarity with SIPTU and UNITE within Trinity.
There are numerous examples of worker-student solidarity; in last few years across the United States, students have formed Student Labour Action Committees to cooperate with workers within their colleges. These kind of coalitions a necessity. The only other option is a hollow husk of a university, more concerned with renaming floors of the library after wealthy donors than with ensuring permanent contracts and deserved promotions for their staff.