Union members in the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) have faced down compulsory redundancies at Victoria University (VU) and the University of Melbourne (Melbourne Uni) by taking industrial action.

In 2008, VU vice-chancellor Elizabeth Harman threatened 150 academic sackings by Christmas. Staff responded with a well-supported 24-hour strike, with students joining the pickets, forcing Harman to delay the planned lay offs.

Next, the VU Chancellor threatened legal action to silence Jamie Doughney, a member of the governing council and NTEU Victoria president. A coalition of professors responded with public objections reported in The Age.

While immediate sackings have been defeated, VU’s management vow that they will push ahead with the lay offs and NTEU members are gearing up for more industrial action in 2009. Friends of Victoria University held a 200-strong meeting in Footscray on November 6, with local activists ready to build a campaign in 2009.

Meanwhile, at Melbourne Uni NTEU members campaigned with protests and stop work meetings throughout 2008 to push back forced sackings in the Arts Faculty.

Hundreds of staff, students and community activists from a range of universities attended a community meeting on November 20. Jamie Doughney argued, “We’ve got to release the inner mongrel in this fight—we have working class universities to fight for, the university system, our jobs and our union.”

On a national level, 2009 will see university staff campaigning for a 27 per cent pay rise (over three years) as part of collective bargaining. The success of industrial action in Melbourne shows how to defeat the threat of sackings once and for all and win the pay claim.

By Judy McVey

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