Left activists have won a strong presence in the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) at Sydney University, alongside an upset defeat for the incumbent state secretary of the union in Victoria.
NTEU branch and national elections concluded in August. At Sydney Uni the left activist network Union Action (UA) led a grassroots campaign and contested the two Vice President positions, Branch Secretary and positions on Branch Committee.
The election saw a significant growth in participation—with 170 extra votes compared to previous elections, a 45 per cent increase. Union Action candidates won the VP (General Staff) and five of the 11 Branch Committee positions. Additionally, some of the other elected candidates are not firmly aligned and are sympathetic to the Union Action platform. In terms of official branch leadership, the left activist voice will be very well placed in the next two years at Sydney Uni.
Union Action came together from activists who believed the campaign for a better enterprise agreement was wound up far too early last year. We ran on a platform of confronting the top-down corporate model of university governance, for a campaign against casualisation, greater member involvement in branch decision making and action in solidarity with the wider union movement.
The incumbent president and vice presidents formed their own ticket for the executive positions, and called for a vote for non-UA affiliated candidates for the branch committee. On campus, UA conducted a heavy poster and leafleting campaign and held two public forums. Our goal in addition to simply winning positions was to increase political participation and debate in the branch. None of our campaigns and direction for the branch has any chance without a strong, committed and active membership.
NTEU elections were also taking place across the country. The Victorian NTEU has a new leadership after RMIT Branch Secretary Melissa Slee defeated the incumbent State Secretary Colin Long. Slee campaigned on a platform that included defending basic conditions and refusing to accept trade-offs. Unfortunately UTS Branch President Vince Caughley lost the National Assistant Secretary position to WA’s Gabe Gooding.
Union Action will continue to build a rank-and-file movement at Sydney Uni. At the moment, management is pushing a change in ICT (as well as finance and HR) that will mean higher workloads, redundancies and deskilling of specialised staff. This shows that in this post-bargaining period we must maintain and build up the level of action on campus.
Union Action members are pushing for a strong public campaign across the university, beginning with a petition and walk-throughs in the affected areas. The current approach of the branch in this and other disputes is to conduct negotiations behind closed doors and to pursue a legalistic implementation of the EA. We need to build up our capacity to mobilise and take industrial action—all the way to confronting the anti-strike laws—to win key demands on campus. Sydney Uni staff and students are encouraged to get involved in the campaign as it escalates in the next few weeks.
By James Harding