On Thursday 6th May, the Postgraduate Workers Alliance Ireland (PWAI) launched their national campaign and charter at a socially distanced rally.
The rally took place outside the Department of Higher Education on Marlborough street, as well as on campuses throughout the country, uniting Postgraduate Workers Alliances from UCD,TCD, DCU, NUIG, UL, NUIM, UCC, WIT and TUD.
The charter consists of ten policy demands that the PWAI will be campaigning for on a National Level, including demands that PhD researchers are recognised as employees, an end to unpaid teaching and other labour for postgraduates, and an end discrimination against non-EU PhD researchers.
In a statement, the PWAI said; “Today postgraduate researchers from all over Ireland launch the Postgraduate Workers Alliance of Ireland (PWAI), a national campaign group for PhD researchers, and other postgraduates doing casual and precarious work in Irish universities...The PWAI will lobby government for policy change, and it will function as a grassroots network for postgraduate workers in trade unions. PWAI groups across the country are either in, or joining trade unions and we plan to organise collectively, towards realising our objectives of fairness and quality in Irish research. In the coming months we will embark on a recruitment drive across Ireland, to build the strength of our group, as we move towards escalating industrial action, should it be necessary”. The PWAI also described this as “a major first step for one group of precarious workers in Irish higher education and research”, adding that they “would encourage other groups, of precarious academics and university staff, to reach out to us and work with us”.
Conor Reddy, an Immunology PhD candidate in TCD’s school of medicine and TCD Postgraduate Workers Alliance activist, told the University Observer: “The incomes that we’re on are completely unlivable. Eighteen grand is the best you’ll get, and when you look at the cost of rent and the cost of living in Dublin it’s impossible to live on that kind of money. That’s our main demand, that we get a livable income.”
When asked about the benefits of a national campaign, Reddy said: “You can fight fires at a local level but it doesn’t really get you very far. I guess there is a high turnover with campaigns like this, with students come and go, they graduate or leave to study abroad. That’s what creating an alliance does, it creates continuity and legitimacy because when we are all organised together and we have a collective list of demands we have a lot more strength.
Reddy also added that; “We are all in or joining trade unions. We are in the process of negotiating entry with SIPTU. A couple of us are members already, are group in Galway are all fully paid members...We will all probably join SIPTU in the next month or two”
Speaking to the University Observer, UCDSU President Conor Anderson said “I worked extensively with the [UCD] PGWA’s predecessor organisation, UCD Anti-casualisation, during my term as Graduate Officer, and I could not be happier to see that they are going national, they have been doing incredible organising, [they are] a really dedicated group of student activists, and I could not be happier to have spent the past two years supporting them as Graduate Officer and as President of the SU. I wish them all the success they can possibly get in their campaign”.