Student Workers Survival Tips

Student Organiser’s Handbook – A handbook for radical students in various formats, written by a SolFed comrade.

2So you’ve got a job to support your studies. You’re not alone – the majority of students have part-time jobs, from shop assistants to factory workers. On this page you’ll find various bits and bobs of advice that should help you and your co-workers live a better life, at work and at college.

First published on 24th November 2008 on iww.org.uk A new site is under construction so some of the links may not work just yet, contact us for informal advice.


Surviving Work

Some nuggets of advice from an old hand. Bear these in mind and you should get on nicely with your workmates inside and outside of the workplace.

1. We’re all in the same boat. Everyone at your workplace is different. You have different ethnicities, different skills, different ages, different jobs, different hobbies and interests, different styles, and so on. However, you also have one important thing in common that overrides all these other differences: you all work for a living. You all work in the same place, day after day, with the same boss, the same routines, and the same conditions. Your interests are all bound up together, e.g. higher wages, better health and safety, more respect. This common interest shouldn’t belittle other differences, but where these differences become a point of conflict, remember how you’ve all got something really important in common.
2. Actually, we’re not all in the same boat. There is a group of people (or an individual) who is not the same as you and your fellow workers. Your boss and the upper levels of management don’t have this common interest with you and your fellow workers because their allegiance will almost always be with the company. You might be lucky and have a nice boss who tries hard to look after you well, but if bad times come, you’ll be the ones getting laid off and having your break times cut to keep the business afloat, not him.
3. A problem shared is a problem halved. If you’ve got a problem with your boss, confide in a co-worker whom you trust. You might find that others are having the same problem, which will help you all cope, and think of ways to deal with that problem.
4. Don’t grass. If you’ve got a problem with a co-worker, don’t go straight to the boss. The best way for everyone is to deal with it as much as possible without going to your boss because it creates tension and bad feelings among the workers. Talk to your co-worker: be polite but firm, and explain why you are unhappy with them. You might be surprised to find out that they didn’t even realise they were doing something wrong, or that it upset you.
5. Respect yourself… and others. Always remember that you are a skilled, worthwhile and intelligent person, and so are your co-workers. If your boss or a supervisor talks down to you, or insults your intelligence, always remind yourself that what they’re saying is more about their lack of people skills than your ability to do the job or your right to respect as a human and a worker. Similarly, if you see your boss treat a co-worker badly, be sure to let them know that they are also worthwhile and intelligent. A workforce that stands together and does not let anyone get left behind is a strong one.
6. Keep it humorous. One of the best ways to keep positive in a job you might not enjoy is by simply having a laugh. You and your workmates shouldn’t be afraid to crack the odd joke here and there to pass the time. Sometimes when conditions are tough, it’s the only way to keep level-headed and let off steam. Striking workers often use humour as a way of keeping their cool in the heat of battle, as well as a great way to make fun of the boss!


Managing your time

Balancing between work and studies can be tricky, but some basic dos and don’ts should help you get the best out of your course and your work:

1. Don’t work during class hours. This may be obvious, but if you have a class scheduled at a certain time, make sure your boss knows about it and doesn’t schedule your shift to take place at the same time. Some jobs are good, but they’re not good enough to get kicked off your course for.
2. Do look for jobs with flexible hours. This will mean that you can fit your work around the changing workloads of your studies. In September, you might not have much studying to do, which means you can work more hours, but in October you may have to cut down on your work to concentrate on studying.
3. Do be careful if you get work through employment agencies. They can be notoriously unpredictable when it comes to giving you work, according to the whims of the particular person you’re assigned to. Working for an agency also means that you will almost never work in a unionised workplace and can be fired without notice and without reason.
4. Do check out funding options. You may be eligible for grants to support costly things such as childcare. Don’t pin your hopes on extra funding, but it is often out there if you look hard enough.
5. Don’t commit to working in a rural or remote area without checking out how you’re going to get there. If you don’t have a car or motorbike, or if there is very little public transport available, you could have problems.
6. Do have the courage to say no. If your boss wants you to work a certain shift that you can’t fit into your schedule, don’t feel obliged to agree. Remember: bosses are only as powerful as the power you give them.
7. Do seek out support. Most universities and colleges have support services that will provide further advice on how to cope with balancing work and studies.
8. Do get clued up. Check out our workplace advice page for more information on what you are entitled to as a worker. Remember, though, that the law is a safety net and a bare minimum, and any employer simply working to the minimum legal requirements is still pretty disgraceful.
9. Don’t suffer in silence. If you are having problems, speak to your supervisor at college and the union rep where you work. If there is no rep where you work, but you are an IWW member, your union will support you in whatever way they can.

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