“Permanent contracts and 1,000 marks a month” – these are the times those who worked as tutors in Berlin in the 1970s can recall. But then, despite an expansion of education and an increased need for staff, cuts and austerity measures brought about fixed-term contracts and cuts in wages and holidays. Assistants and tutors organised against this and fought for the first, and still the only, collective agreement for student employees (TVStud), which came into effect in 1980. Faced with the threat of mass dismissals of tutors and further deterioration of study and working conditions planned by the Berlin government, including the termination of the TVStud by the senate, student workers, by the mid-1980s, once again found themselves in a defensive struggle. But in 1986, with creative strike and protest actions they won this, too, and in the end achieved TVStud II. Berlin’s then science senator, furious at his defeat, said that only in Berlin was there a collective agreement for student employees, and only there was there an employee mentality in higher education. Unfortunately, he was proven right for far too long; efforts to implement a TVStud in other Länder failed, as did a nationwide attempt at collective bargaining in 1994, which was opposed, among others, by the German Rectors’ Conference.
Further reading on the tutors’ strike (in German)
- Büchner, Gerold/ Hansmann, Uli/ Lecher, Thomas/ Stumpfögger, Niko (1986): Bis hierher und nicht weiter. Der Berliner Tutorenstreik 1986. Hamburg: VSA-Verlag. ISBN: 3-87975-390-3. Available as PDF in our cloud (see here how to get access/register).
- Köhler, Max (2017): Bis hierher und nicht weiter. Kleine Geschichte des Berliner Tarifvertrags für studentische Beschäftigte. HUch 85. Available online at: https://www.refrat.de/huch/2017/10/bis-hierher-und-nicht-weiter-kleine-geschichte-des-berliner-tarifvertrags-fuer-studentische-beschaeftigte/.
- Referat für Subversion des AStA FU (2018): „Bis hierher und nicht weiter.“ – Gedanken zur Geschichte des TVStud und zum aktuellen Streik. Available online at: https://astafu.de/node/375.
It was not until 2015 that things really started to move again, and after more than 40 days of strike action, we were successful: TVStud III was won. That was in 2018 in Berlin, and had a knock-on effect far beyond. Industrial action by student workers was possible. When the first systematic attempts at organising outside of Berlin, in Bremen and Hamburg, threatened to fail in 2019 because the Länder were not allowed to negotiate a collective agreement for assistants and tutors independently, it became clear that we also had to organise on a national level and first break the political blockade mentality of the employers’ association Tarifgemeinschaft deutscher Länder (TdL) against collective bargaining.
In late 2020, the first digital networking meeting took place with student workers who were already active in the union – in retrospect, this was the starting point for the nationwide plenaries that have taken place every two weeks ever since. What emerged is the largest collective bargaining movement of student workers in Germany to date. In spring 2021, the campaign “Keine Ausnahme!” (“No exception!”) was launched, which put the issue back on the agendas of ver.di and the GEW after almost 30 years and brought it to the negotiating table in the collective bargaining round in autumn, while student employees went on strike for the first time at many universities. The result: no commitment to negotiate yet, but a promise to take stock of working conditions.
We took this into our own hands by conducting the study “Jung, akademisch, prekär” (“Young, academic, precarious”), which was published one week before the first talks with the TdL in January 2023. Based on more than 11,000 surveys, we were now able to prove the precariousness of our employment conditions. In addition to existing coalition agreements, which in the meantime had agreed to collective bargaining under our pressure, further science ministers then spoke out in favour of the need for improvements and a collective agreement – by now the score is 11 to 5 between the Länder, in our favour. In the meantime, not only have staff representation laws and higher education laws been amended and, thanks to the efforts of active student employees, co-determination rights and longer contracts been secured/achieved, but the Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz (WissZeitVG) is set to introduce a minimum contract period of one year – nationwide.