notes on the [inevitable] proletarianisation of the University

Some follow-on notes on the proletarianisation of the University.


Going to school, being a student is work. This work is called schoolwork although it is not usually considered to really be work since we don’t receive any wages for doing it. This does not mean that schoolwork is not work, but rather that they have taught us to believe that only if you are paid do you really work.

But the Left runs afoul of that old question posed to previous enlighteners of the working class: who shall educate the educators? Since the Left does not start from the obvious: schoolwork is unwaged work, all its efforts lead to more unwaged work for capital, to more exploitation. All its attempts to increase class consciousness remain oblivious to capital’s constrol on its own ground and so the left ends in consistently supporting capital’s efforts to intensify work, in rationalizing and disciplining the working class. So the “building of socialism” becomes just another device for getting more free work in the service of capital.

For those of us who do not receive such support, not getting a wage means having to work an additional job outside of school. And since the labor market is saturated with students looking for these jobs, capital imposes minimum wages and benefits on us. As a result, we work even more hours or even additional jobs. Since our schoolwork is unpaid, most of us work during the so-called summer vacation. Even if we take the time off we have no money with which to enjoy it. The absurdity of this is even further magnified by the very high productivity requirements which are constantly being imposed on us as students (exams, quizzes, papers, etc.) and by the way we are being programmed so that we impose further productivity requirements on ourselves (extra credit work, outside reading and thinking for our classes – not for ourselves, on-the-job training, student teaching, etc.) On the other hand, we are forced to work for nothing and on the other, we are forced to work for almost nothing.

We must force capital, which profits from our work, to pay for our schoolwork. Only then can we stop depending on financial aid, our parents, working second and third jobs or working during summer vacations for our existence. We already earn a wage; now we must be paid for it. Only in this way can we seize more power to use in our dealings with capital.

The Wages for Students Students. 1975. Wages for Students


York University said classes are still suspended on Tuesday, but said some may resume soon after contract faculty split with teaching assistants and agreed to accept a new contract offer.

[the Canadian Union of Public Employees] says about two-thirds of undergraduate courses at the universities are taught by non-tenured staff who are paid about $15,000 a year.

CBC News. 2015. York University offer rejected by 2 of 3 bargaining units of CUPE 3903


“I feel sick.” Reaction of one of my students when she found out how much I earn as an #adjunct in relation to her #tuition. #afterNAWD

@iamyanity, 6 March 2015


National Adjunct wrote that the goal of the protest is to raise awareness of the problems part-time profs face, including workplace isolation, lack of resources, an increasing workload, little job security, and no support from school administrators.

John Martin, a history professor and chairman of the California Part Time Faculty Association, said hard data about the number of working adjuncts is hard to come by, but evidence suggests it’s “easily” at least 50 percent of faculty at four-year institutions, and probably closer to 60 percent nationwide.

“The California state university system has officially announced that 51 percent of the student body is taught by part-time lecturers,” he said, adding that many of them need several teaching jobs to make ends meet. “It’s just continually rising and rising and rising.”

“The adjunct crisis is one piece of this puzzle,” National Adjunct wrote. “The short answer is that higher education [is] losing its mission. At the same time tuition, student fees, and student debt have increased at unprecedented rates, administrative positions and salaries have risen, while reliance on contingent faculty has jumped to 75 percent. That’s really a stunning number—75 percent of college courses in the U.S. are taught by contingent faculty, most of whom do not earn a living wage, and have no job security!”

Joseph Williams. 2015. Tuition Is Up, So Why Are College Profs on Welfare?


Current student protests are typically about tuition fees, the outsourcing of in-house services, staff redundancies and other issues related to the inexorable move towards a for-profit higher education system. They strive to resist the furtherance of a neoliberal agenda, and express values that are not money-driven.

They also represent a wake-up call especially for academics. Some of us are fortunate to work in institutions that continue to regard higher education as a public good, and to value social democracy, freedom of expression, transparency and consultative practices. Sadly, we can no longer assume that principles of good governance remain the norm across the sector. We must therefore vigilantly guard against the erosion of the principles of good governance in our home institutions at the same time as we support those who no longer work in environments conducive to the upholding of principles we thought went without saying.

Marie-Bénédicte Dembour . 2015. British universities and the prevalence of ‘bad governance’.


The University works because we do.

As it currently stands, TAs at the University of Toronto – Canada’s richest, and purportedly best public university – live at 35% under the poverty line. Once we’re finished our course work, domestic students continue to pay $8,500 for tuition and international students pay over $15,000 – for a library card and monthly meetings with our supervisors. All comparable institutions in the United States offer post-residency fees to reflect this reality.

Sessional professors have virtually no job security and mere $275 in health care despite having the same qualifications as full time faculty.

At the same time, tuition rates continue to climb and class sizes increase.

Where is your money going? Who, exactly, faces challenging fiscal realities? The students and education workers at U of T who live under the poverty line, or an institution that spends $2 billion annually, has billions of dollars in investments, and recently announced an income stream of $200 million for 2015?

CUPE3902 #WeAreUofT. 2015.


Free education is a clearly feminist demand. When you argue for the redistribution of wealth from highly paid university executives to low paid cleaners, you benefit migrant women. When you argue for a liberated curriculum, you benefit overlooked women theorists and academics. When you argue for true living grants for all who study, you benefit the 92% of carers who are women and state living costs as one of the major factors that put them off education. Free education is a demand for liberation, and too often this is forgotten – or worse, name-checked and not acted upon – in the mainstream student movement.

We are not in the University of London by accident. Senate House is the administrative heart of the University, and yet it is a University that does not actually teach anyone directly, it is a service provider to its constituent colleges. This service- and branding-based model is the epitome of the neoliberal model of marketised education. What good is a University that only provides a brand, not education?

You could ask further – what good is a university that not only provides no education directly, but also treats its lowest paid workers appallingly? We stand in solidarity with Nuvia, an outsourced cleaner sacked without warning when six months pregnant and call for fair working conditions for all staff here. The majority of all minimum waged work is undertaken by women, and women are more likely to work part time or on precarious zero hour contracts. The rights of women workers, and of migrant women workers in particular, cannot be ignored by the mainstream feminist student movement any longer.

You could ask even further – what good is a University which not only does not provide education, and treats its lowest paid workers appallingly but also calls the police on its own students?

NCAFC. 2015. Why We Are Occupying Senate House (UoL)


People working in education are the group most likely to be putting in unpaid overtime and clocking up the most free hours a week, according to figures released today.

UCU. 2015. Education workers are doing the most unpaid overtime.


Think about the drive of capitalists to expand their capital, the drive to increase the exploitation of workers. How can they do this? One way is by getting workers to work more for the capitalists, for example by extending the workday or intensifying the workday (speedup). Another is to drive down the wages of workers. And, still another is to prevent workers from being the beneficiaries of advances in social knowledge and social productivity. Capital is constantly on the search for ways to expand the workday in length and intensity—which, of course, is contrary to the needs of human beings to have time for themselves for rest and for their own self-development. Capital is also constantly searching for ways to keep down and drive down wages, which of course means to deny workers the ability to satisfy their existing needs and to share in the fruits of social labor. How does capital achieve this? In particular, it does so by separating workers, by turning them against each other.

The logic of capital has nothing to do with the needs of human beings. So practices such as the use of racism and patriarchy to divide workers, the use of the state to outlaw or crush trade unions, the destruction of people’s lives by shutting down operations and moving to parts of the world where people are poor, unions banned, and environmental regultions nonexistent—are not accidental but the product of a society in which human beings are simply means for capital.

Workers, it appears, have an interest in the health of capitalists, have an interest in expanding demand on the part of capitalists for their labor-power—by education, tradition, and habit, they come to look upon the needs of capital as self-evident natural laws, as common sense. The reproduction of workers as wage-laborers requires the reproduction of capital.

So, we return to our question—what keeps capitalism going? How is capitalism reproduced as a system? I think you can see the answer that I am offering: capital tends to produce the working class it needs. It produces workers who look upon it as necessary—a system that is unfair, one that requires you to struggle constantly to realize your needs, a system run by people out to get you, yet a system where the reproduction of capital is necessary for the reproduction of wage-laborers. What keeps capitalism going? Wage-laborers. The reproduction of workers as wage-laborers is necessary for the reproduction of capital.

Workers are not simply the products of capital. They are formed (and form themselves) through all the relationships in which they exist. And, they transform themselves through their struggles—not only those against capital but also against those other relations like patriarchy and racism. Even though these struggles may take place fully within the confines of capitalist relations, in the course of engaging in collective struggles people develop a new sense of themselves. They develop new capacities, new understandings of the importance of collective struggle. People who produce themselves as revolutionary subjects through their struggles enter into their relations with capital as different people; in contrast to those who are not in motion, they are open to developing an understanding of the nature of capital.

Michael A. Lebowitz. 2004. What Keeps Capitalism Going?


What we are really trying to say is that capitalism, through its process of production, produces an awesome schizophrenic accumulation of energy or charge, against which it brings all its vast powers of repression to bear, but which nonetheless continues to act as capitalism’s limit. For capitalism constantly counteracts, constantly inhibits this inherent tendency while at the same time allowing it free rein; it continually seeks to avoid reaching its limit while simultaneously tending toward that limit.Capitalism institutes or restores all sorts of residual and artificial, imaginary, or symbolic territorialities, thereby attempting, as best it can, to recode, to rechannel persons who have been defined in terms of abstract quantities. Everything returns or recurs: States, nations, families. That is what makes the ideology of capitalism “a motley painting of everything that has ever been believed.” The real is not impossible; it is simply more and more artificial. Marx termed the twofold movement of the tendency to a falling rate of profit, and the increase in the absolute quantity of surplus value, the law of the counteracted tendency. As a corollary of this law, there is the twofold movement of decoding or deterritorializing flows on the one hand, and their violent and artificial reterritorialization on the other.

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. 1983. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, p. 34


The self-exploiting entrepreneur, beguiled by the promise of creative control and autonomy, more often than not ends up merely acting as a node for the flow of capitalist social relations.

Richmond, M. 2014. Unpaid Trials & Self-Exploiting Entrepreneurs.


The civilizing moments themselves are transformed into their opposites and become moments of a second barbarism. Freedom and equality, democracy and human rights begin to display the same features of dehumanization as the market system upon which they are based.

The reason for this lies in the peculiar and insidious quality of the secularized constitution of the fetish of the commodity-form. The commodity-form as universal form of consciousness, of the subject and of reproduction, on the one hand, actually extends the space of subjectivity beyond all pre-modern forms but, on the other hand, precisely on account of its unwavering character as unconscious fetish-form, stirs up a cultural liberation which now, with its spatial and social totalization throughout the planet, definitively unleashes the always-latent monstrous moment in this constitution which is violently manifested in its crisis of affirmation. This monstrosity resides in the contentless abstraction of the fetish of the commodity-form, manifested as reproduction’s total indifference to all perceptible content and as an equal, mutual indifference of abstractly individualized men. At the end of its development and of its history of affirmation, the total commodity-form produces dehumanized and abstract beings, who pose the threat of a regression to a pre-animalistic state

Robert Kurz. 1993. Domination without a subject.


While the nominal quantity of money in the world (including shares, property prices, credit, debt, financial derivatives) is constantly increasing, what money is supposed to represent, i.e. labour, is decreasing into ever-smaller amounts. Thus money has practically no ‘real’ value any more, and a gigantic devaluation of money (firstly in the form of inflation) will be inevitable. But after centuries during which money has constituted social mediation at an ever-higher level, its unorganised, yet sustained devaluation can only trigger a gigantic social regression and the abandonment of a large part of social activity that is no longer ‘profitable’. Thus the end of capitalism’s historical trajectory may well land us with a ‘perverse return’ of sacrifice and usher in a new and postmodern barbarism. Indeed, capitalism is even currently abolishing the meagre ‘progress’ that it once brought and incessantly demands ‘sacrifices’ from men in order to save the money-fetish. Cuts in public health budgets even remind Kurz of the human sacrifices of ancient history practised in order to calm furious gods, and he ends by asserting that ‘the bloodthirsty Aztec priests were a harmless and humane bunch compared to the sacrificer bureaucrats of the global capital fetish when it has reached its internal historical limit.’

For Kurz, we are not witnessing a ‘cyclical’ or ‘growth’ capitalist crisis but experiencing the end of a long historical era, without knowing if the future will be better, or if it will turn out to be a descent into a situation where the vast majority of human beings will not even be worth exploiting any more, but will just be ‘superfluous’ (to the valorisation of capital). Moreover, nobody can control such a runaway machine.

Anselm Jappe. 2014. Kurz, a Journey into Capitalism’s Heart of Darkness, Historical Materialism 22.3–4 (2014) 395–407.


echoes do not make revolutions

Esther Leslie. 2014. Satanic Mills: On Robert Kurz. Historical Materialism 22.3–4 (2014) 408-23.


2 Responses to notes on the [inevitable] proletarianisation of the University

  1. I think the Bologna standard for higher education has the full-time workload for students as 55 hours per week. Let’s get it down to 30 before the next generation of educated neo liberals become managers.

  2. Pingback: Friday Links! | Gerry Canavan

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