At a meeting of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) at the University of Sydney (USYD) last week, members voted 92% in favor of a strike for the fourth time this year. The majority voted to make it a two-day strike on October 13-14.
The NTEU has called for a series of limited one- or two-day stops at the university, seeking a new corporate deal. But management has continued to aggressively demand wage increases well below the rate of inflation, as well as further reductions in working conditions, in addition to cutting hundreds of jobs since 2020.
The leadership seeks to fundamentally change university education to meet the demands of the financial elite to tailor university education and research more directly to business needs. This program is supported by the Albanian Labor government.
The latest vote highlights the determination of USYD workers to fight the management. It also reflects the broader intent of university staff to oppose the wholesale destruction of jobs and conditions that the NTEU has authorized, particularly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The NTEU’s goal, however, is to continue to isolate workers, university by university, and wear them out with ineffectual one- or two-day strikes. Union leaders fear a broader movement of opposition to the union’s collaboration with management.
University of Queensland workers voted 93% to go on one-day strikes and halted work on September 1, but the union limited the action to end at 10 a.m. Staff at Newcastle University voted “overwhelmingly” to strike on September 21 for 24 hours. Griffith University workers will soon vote on industrial action. Staff at James Cook University and Queensland University of Technology voted ‘unanimously’ to seek a protected action ballot, which is required to take industrial action under draconian laws passed by the last Labor government, supported by the unions, in 2009.
At the USYD meeting, NTEU branch president Nick Riemer summarized the fruitless results of more than a year of negotiations. “Management is a give and take,” he said, “the campaign could drag on into next year.”
Reimer said “we need to step up” but only offered another one or two day strike. Like previous strikes, this would only involve NTEU members, around 2,000 out of a membership of around 10,000. Reimer made no call for joint action with other universities.
Zac Hambides, a member of the Committee for Public Education (CFPE) and the Socialist Equality Party (SEP), attempted to propose an amendment to call for “an indefinite strike beginning with a massive strike meeting all the day for all university staff in Australia to decide what is needed to fight for a first-class higher education as a social right with decent pay, conditions and secure employment.
Although Hambides raised his hand early in the discussion, Riemer avoided giving him the call, in keeping with repeated attempts to censor Hambides and members of the Socialist Equality Party.
Chris Gordon, CFPE member at Macquarie University, said he opposed restricting ‘worker actions at this university’ but was quickly cut off by Riemer, underscoring the union’s hostility to any unified struggle .
Hambides was eventually allowed to speak, but on another agenda item calling for other types of industrial action. Hambides said members were denied the right to vote on his motion, but explained why it was necessary.
“University-by-university strikes are a recipe for defeat in the face of a national, tripartite assault on education led by the Albanian Labor government in alliance with big business and trade unions,” which was outlined at the government meeting of the September 1 to 2. “Jobs and Skills Summit”.
“This requires a national working-class response, of which academic staff are a component. We call for the establishment of independent NTEU rank-and-file committees to establish a united struggle of all education workers in alliance with our brothers and sisters in other industries.
“He must be independent of the NTEU because the union has worked with management for decades. It accelerated during the pandemic and now the union is using a potential deal at WSU [Western Sydney University] as a model for nationwide cups. The WSU deal is a pay cut while offering no guarantees to casual workers and was not voted on by members.
Riemer abruptly interrupted Hambides, saying he had run out of time.
The USYD meeting is another demonstration that unions cannot be reformed. The greater the pressure from below on the union bureaucracy, the more it seeks to stifle discussion.
Opposition to pro-management union apparatuses is growing among workers around the world, but this requires the formation of new, genuine organizations of struggle – rank-and-file committees, completely independent of the unions and based on a socialist perspective that rejects the dictates of the corporate elite.
This means building the CFPE, the grassroots organization of educators, initiated by the SEP, within the framework of an International Alliance of Grassroots Committee Workers. Contact the CFPE: