Union branch elections at Sydney University are seeing a political contest over strategy, led by the left activist network, Union Action.
At the end of last year, the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) campaign at Sydney Uni for a better enterprise agreement (EA) came to a halt all too early. While two days of industrial action won us some concessions and fought off attacks from management, a vote was put to the members to accept management’s offer before we had won our core demands of a better pay offer, no forced redundancies, no teaching-only advertised positions, and equal superannuation and sick leave for casuals.
Parts of the current NTEU leadership argued to wind up the strikes and reached an in-principle agreement behind closed doors without the majority support of the branch committee. Their arguments for ending the campaign included the fear that our agreement would be terminated as occurred at Murdoch University, that our demands were “too radical” to achieve, and that we would face “burn out” from further strikes.
Activists who are now running with Union Action argued to continue the campaign.
Our campaign was growing in strength with more members joining the union and well-attended picket lines. Around one-third of members at a meeting of more than 400 voted with us –despite considerable pressure from the officials to settle.
Our sector is plagued by job insecurity and intensifying workloads. Unless we fight to defend jobs and working conditions the situation will only worsen.
This has been reinforced since finalising the agreement. Casuals in several areas have faced significant delays in contract renewals. In another work area, there was complete lack of transparency when long-term casual staff attempting to convert to permanent positions had their applications turned down. With restructuring across the university underway, the issues are only going to grow.
Outside the EA bargaining period, we cannot take legal industrial action, leaving us in a weaker position to challenge management decisions over restructures, refurbishments and rosters.
Staff are being left to fight in isolation in their individual departments as issues arise. The strategy of the branch continues to be one of negotiations behind closed doors. What we need is public campaigning and solidarity across the campus to push back management.
Union Action is running on a platform of confronting the top-down corporate model of university governance, for a campaign against casualisation, greater member involvement in decision-making, and action in solidarity with the wider union movement. The ballot opens in August. Both vice-president positions (professional and academic) as well as branch committee positions are being contested. NTEU members at Sydney Uni are encouraged to get involved in the campaign.
By Vivian Honan
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