21 october 2015 a worker protests at UCT

The Cape Argus invited student co-editors to edit today's edition of the newspaper.

This article was written, commissioned and edited by students involved in the #FeesMustFall protest.

Cape Town - The media portrayal of the protest actions has been narrowly focused on fees, an important pillar of the struggle.

But central to the struggle is the need to guarantee decent, equitable standards of living for all – this protest is just as much about #EndOutsourcing as #FreeEducation.

Workers have marched side by side with students, and the marginalisation of their role is a reflection of their perceived value at UCT and in society. It is less comfortable for society to recognise the legitimacy of workers’ struggles. Most people agree with the principle of free education.

Low wages and work without benefits are the hallmark of contemporary capitalism. At a particular juncture in history, the idea that public institutions and public resources are sources of private profiteering have dominated social and economic policies.

In South Africa, universities set the stage in a pernicious aspect of this thinking through the practice of outsourcing.

This practice makes it possible for private companies to enrich themselves by taking a portion of workers’ earnings, and letting markets rather than needs decide wages.

At UCT, workers who had been employed directly had their wages slashed; others lost their jobs. The outcome of this poverty-inducing measure is the reality that many workers on campus today earn wages that are incapable of sustaining them and their dependents for a month (as researched by UCT itself: see http://groundup.org.za/article/ucts-muddled-minimum-wage_2512).

The argument that these workers are paid fairly through market-determined wages is rubbish. Poverty wages underpin poverty and people’s lack of access to the basic necessities of life, including education.

Many workers that feed, clean and protect lives on campus do not send their children to UCT simply because of the wages they earn. Teaching cannot happen if nobody cleans a classroom.

The health and safety that underpins education will not be attained without workers.

It is the hands of workers that built all universities, it is the hands of workers that cook for students and ensure the social reproduction that makes university life possible. Workers make education possible.

The low wages of workers allow students to come to UCT. Workers should not suffer so students can be educated. Decolonisation or transformation begins to have material value if it changes the unbearable conditions under which workers ensure university life.

It is disgusting that workers are paid poverty wages, while the vice-chancellor earns more than R2.8 million annually, along with executive directors who earn above R1.3m annually.

The struggle is based on the organisation of social production and reproduction (learning inclusive) to meet the needs of everyday life and not the imperatives of profit and a narrow education, which inculcates upward social mobility in students.

The struggle, therefore, is for a living wage.

A living wage should reflect a social and productive wage that includes free universal education.

Cape Argus

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