Sydney University saw its sixth day of strike action this year on August 20, as National Tertiary Education (NTEU) and Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) members pursued their campaign against management attacks on pay and conditions.
Management’s pay offer of 2.9 per cent represents a real pay cut when inflation and the timing of the agreement are taken into account.
This joint campaign constitutes the strongest industrial action on any Australian campus for generations. It is testament to union members’ determination that even after five days of strikes already, strong pickets were held at all the university entrances.
The timing of the strike was no accident. 20 August was a National Day of Action against university cuts, with students and staff mobilising around the country. NTEU members on no less than ten campuses took industrial action of one kind or another.
At Sydney, the NTEU action offered a foretaste of the disruption that will be caused by the strike and picket called for the University Open Day, 31 August. This threat has provoked an anti-union onslaught from university managers. The Dean of the Arts Faculty wrote to staff that the Open Day strike is “a deeply flawed strategy”.
This is a sure sign of the strategy’s effectiveness. Disruption to Open Day, a naked university marketing exercise, apparently matters more to the university’s senior managers than the previous five days’ disruption to lectures. These priorities are easy to understand. Open Day is a day of unpaid labour for academics and weekend work for general staff. It draws the whole university community into the project of marketing and inter-institutional competition so important to the university-as-business ethos of upper management.
Management know that picketing campus and informing prospective students about the real state of the university will certainly constitute reputational damage, but it won’t turn away prospective undergraduates: students will always want to come to Sydney.
The real reason the Open Day strike is so unwelcome is that it directly challenges the premises of management’s neoliberal vision of the university. All the more reason to do everything to make a success of the day, and plan the campaign beyond it. Staff have shown that even if management tries to hold out, we can finish what we started.
By Nick Riemer, NTEU activist Sydney Uni