Casual Leiden was set up in the autumn of 2020 and launched publicly in the winter of 2021. It has brought together academics – both permanent and temporary – around the pressing issues of bogus temporary contracts, casualisation, and overwork at Leiden University.
These problems are neither new nor unacknowledged. In fact, they appear to be universally recognised by all those with even a passing knowledge of the sector: academics, journalists, university managers, and politicians.
Yet, while all those with institutional power nod their heads but rub their hands in awkward obfuscation, we continue to move from institution to institution, from insecure contract to insecure contract, anxiously carrying out our research and chasing publications in our free time – hoping against hope to break the cycle individually rather than collectively fixing the broken structure.
How, then, can we explain the lack of action around this question?
On the one hand, successive governments have moved to increase the financial pressure on universities by cutting state bursaries for students and funding for institutions. This is slowly but surely installing a market logic in the sector, pushing managers to look for more ways to maximise income (by boosting student numbers) and cutting costs (on the back of early career academics). This contradictory approach, increasing workload but minimising expenses for those who must carry it out, can only be resolved on the backs of staff members.
On the other hand, despite generating important revenues as well as often being considerable landlords, universities are facing little opposition from the academic workforce – too overworked, and worried about their future, to fight back. In those circumstances, every time the government increases pressure on them, managers push downwards in a desperate attempt to square the circle. Making us pay for the failures of the system as a whole. They express outrage in the process, for good measure, but the outcome remains the same: more overwork, more bogus temporary contracts, more early careers that cannot get off the ground.
Casual Leiden is born, then, from a refusal to accept this state of affairs. From a sense of frustration and anger, but also of hope and a deep conviction that it does not have to be this way; that together we can build a different, more open, more critical, more accessible university – for staff and students alike. We believe in a university where students are offered a better education, by staff members who have the time to carry out research as well as provide them with the necessary pedagogical support; a university where positions which are structurally necessary for the provision of teaching and support are filled by secure staff, on permanent contracts, instead of continuing to be reliant on underpaid, insecure, and temporary workers; a university, then, based on solidarity between its different parts, rather than competition and deception.
This different university, however, will not fall from the sky. It will not be handed down to us. It will not come from asking politely, at the same council meetings, where our demands have been ignored for so long. It will require collective, determined and decisive action.
This is why Casual Leiden believes that it is only through industrial action – strikes, marking boycotts, and other work-to-rule tactics – that our working conditions can improve and that our institutions will be forced to change their approach. If we want our management to stop treating us like disposable members of our university communities, we must demonstrate how structurally indispensable we are. If we want them to push upwards and mobilise their considerable resources to demand solutions from the government, instead of downwards onto us, we need to demonstrate the consequences of failing to do so. Short-term fixes and empty promises will not do. We are out of patience, and out of time.
If you agree with us, and are prepared to take collective action, including strikes, marking boycotts, and other forms of structural disruption, to improve our workplace, our institution, and our sector – join us.