Musical staff

Strike shuts down University of Sydney for 48 hours as staff and students fight together – Solidarity Online

A 48-hour strike saw the University of Sydney almost completely closed on Wednesday and Thursday this week, after a meeting of more than 300 members of the National Union for Higher Education (NTEU) voted in favor of the strike .

“This is one of the best strikes we’ve had at the University of Sydney since I’ve been here,” NTEU NSW secretary Damien Cahill said after the first day.

Hundreds of staff and students formed picket lines over the two days at more than half a dozen main campus entrances – as well as, for the first time, at the separate Conservatory of Music. Other unions also lent their support, including MUA members who joined the picket lines and held a barbecue on the second day of the strike.

Despite the university’s claims that “most classes will run as normal”, the campus was deserted, with picket lines turning away staff, students and cars from 7 a.m. each day. There were particularly strong contingents representing departments such as Gender and Cultural Studies, Education, Philosophy and Linguistics.

A “roving picket” involving groups of students traveled across campus for the small number of classes that were still held in person. The goal was to convince students that their tutors and lecturers were undermining efforts to improve the quality of their education, through a conscious decision to break the strike and cross the picket lines. Some had forced their students to attend with threats of academic sanctions.

Three classes were closed with a number of staff abandoning them, and in another ten students decided to walk out.

Job cuts and wage theft

This success is the result of the tireless work of staff and students in the weeks leading up to the strike, with NTEU members distributing leaflets at doors each morning and over 80 motions passed in classrooms in support of the strike.

The union’s ability to call a 48-hour strike as its first bargaining action shows the depth of staff anger after two grueling years since the pandemic began.

More than 40,000 university staff have been laid off nationwide as university administrations used COVID as an excuse to cut costs.

With many employees working from home and online courses, as well as efforts by the union leadership to accept job cuts and conditions through the Jobs Protection Framework, have all made it more difficult to organize resistance. It wasn’t until the Sydney United union began to act through a protected action vote that staff began to organize further.

The strike also comes at an important time, just over a week before the federal election.

As Damien Cahill said at a rally during the strike, “The coalition government has been waging war on universities ever since it was elected. In the last budget, the government provided for a further reduction of 8.5% in university funding compared to forecasts.

University managements have dramatically increased job insecurity and workloads and are counting on massive wage theft by forcing staff to work unpaid hours.

University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor Mark Scott was appointed last year with a whopping $982,800 salary, the same year 80 casual workers filed a claim for $2 million in stolen wages. If that’s representative of casual employees in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, salary theft could reach $64 million in that faculty alone over six years.

“We are on strike for job security, for an end to precariousness, for labor rights, for First Nations justice, for trans leave, for the protection of the vital link between teaching and research. so that education is delivered by knowledge creators,” NTEU Leadership President Nick Riemer explained.

“We have a very ambitious set of demands around creating permanent jobs for long-term casuals who have been working regular hours for years at this university and who deserve respect for the essential work they do,” said Finola Laughren, a casual employee of Gender and Cultural Studies, said.

Casuals make up 52% ​​of university staff. Including staff on fixed-term contracts, this percentage rises to a total of 74 per cent of staff in precarious work.

The union is also calling for enforceable quotas for First Nations employment and annual gender affirmation leave. It was the first strike in Australian history to fight demands for transitional leave.

Open the way

This strike sets a very good example for NTEU members from other universities in the country who are also entering into negotiations.

Recent months have seen nurses and teachers, transport workers and the elderly go on strike. It’s the kind of action that can help drive Scott Morrison out, get a real pay raise, and roll back the casualization agenda for college bosses.

It will be strike action that can force any future Labor party to make changes and increase funding after May 21. A militant labor movement is the key to combating the rising cost of living.

Another strike at Sydney University is likely on May 24, with the union meeting again next week to ratify the decision after a new report from a bargaining meeting with the university. Riemer told the strikers: “We will be back here, if necessary, on May 24 twice as strong, twice as strong, twice as determined”.

The key to the success of the next strike will be to convince more union members to engage in building activities such as daily leafleting sessions and to recruit their non-union colleagues to the NTEU. According to reports, ten new members are joining the union every week. This number may increase with active recruitment following a successful strike.

Member-driven initiatives such as the Casuals Network, which meets weekly and attracts professional and academic staff from across the university, should continue. In-person meetings like these bring new people to the activity, build trust and create a sense of unity within the workforce while strengthening the member-led strike organization.

Building on the success of this week and stepping up the strike is the way to win.

By Angus Dermody

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