Chasing the Future

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Being a student is wonderful in theory: you receive an education from the best professors in their field in whichever subject you’re most passionate about and take the skills you learn into the world of work. In reality, it’s an increasingly demanding sphere where students are required to work long hours on top of study just to make a living. That in mind, activists with the Better Than Zero campaign (see their work in the video below) write for Conter about an empowering series of courses starting tomorrow…

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The German playwright Bertold Brecht once said: “It’s true: I earn a living. But believe me, that’s just a coincidence.” That in mind, are you fed up being molded into faceless robots? This week, step off the production line.

The Young Workers’ Project is a workers’ education initiative based at the Scottish Trades Union Congress. It’s the learning wing of the Better Than Zero campaign, and it develops courses to challenge the control the employers and government have over the future of work and workers’ lives.

This week and next, it’s running a course called Chasing the Future for working students. The motivation is simple: for working students, most of our time is spent working, studying or sleeping. At every stage of education we’re taught to prepare ourselves for a life of work. Meanwhile, we have to keep ourselves alive in jobs that bear little or no relation to our aspirations. We’re made to chase a future of work without stopping to wonder why.

The UK and Scottish Governments like to look acrimonious, but they’re in harmony when it comes to creating workers of the future. Through the Edinburgh City Deal they are about to invest hundreds of millions of pounds in employability. One sophisticated initiative is “an integrated multi-agency regional employability and skills escalator” to carry people from worklessness to working life. Bespoke centres such as the Food and Drink Innovation Campus will ensure the demand for “skills that the industry sector requires is met”. This is how they aim to direct the future of work.

It’s also now Scottish Government policy to let employers shape the curriculum in secondary schools. Its policies “to support and enable young people in considering their entry into the workplace” include a new “early career education digital offer for primary schools P5-P7 via My World of Work (MyWow)”. MyWow is presumably the sound primary children make when they learn they’re going to have to spend eight hours of most days for the rest of their lives exchanging their labour for the freedom to live.

In this context, there’s a great task to describe and define what it means to be molded into a piece of productivity. These free workshops are each two hours long, and you can sign up for whichever ones fit your schedule. They will look anew at work: how it’s presented in film, the way workers write, the way we’re made into a number, as well as images, symbols and methods of resistance. They will be run by activists, artists and academics who are all, in one way or another, working against the run of the treadmill.

The courses are for working students, which raises an awkward question as to why they have been organised at the time of the year when study and work are most intense. Well, see it as a provocation: each of you, readers, who attends the course, will have chosen for two short hours to step off a treadmill of study and work, work and study which keeps people feeling faceless, and caught in the present.

The sessions, developed with Better Than Zero and Living Rent, are set to be some of the most creative initiatives in this year’s trade union calendar. If you’re a working student, you’re most welcome. It will be good to see you there.


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