At the University of Sydney the NTEU branch and national council elections have been conducted against the backdrop of a vigorous industrial campaign as part of the current bargaining round. This has made the branch elections a highly political contest about how staff can organise to win crucial demands of a real wage rise, for proper 40/40/20 jobs for ongoing casuals, increased job security and more.
The biggest development in the election has been the formation of a vibrant “Rank and File Action” or RAFA ticket that draws together the leading militants in the branch. RAFA has brought casuals, academic and professional staff from socialist, Greens and ALP backgrounds together in a healthy and active coalition dedicated to mobilising staff to build the union’s industrial power.
For anyone familiar with the sectarian and self-serving politics of Socialist Alternative, it will come as no surprise that Socialist Alternative is organising its own “Fightback” branded ticket rather than find common ground with the left of the NTEU at Sydney University.
But the election has also brought out the worst divisive instincts from Socialist Alternative’s Sydney Uni operation led by Alma Torlakovic. Alma’s “Fightback” ticket is effectively preferencing “Thrive”, the conservative ticket in the branch committee elections.
Socialist Alternative is well-known for dealing with the right in student union elections as they manoeuvre for the spoils of the student bureaucracy. But to preference the right in a serious union election in what has been the most left-wing NTEU branch takes their opportunism to another level.
RAFA is preferencing Fightback for the branch committee and local executive, yet Fightback has failed to preference the left for either of the important Vice President positions. They rebuffed approaches to reconsider their position favouring the right.
Long-time NTEU member, socialist and anti-AUKUS activist David Brophy is contesting the Academic Vice-President, against incumbent and key Thrive organiser, Maryanne Large. Large, the CEO of a number of small companies, argues “Change happens fastest when it comes from the top”. She has pulled together the Thrive ticket in order to counter the left-wing campaigning focus of the Sydney Uni branch.
In what could be a tight three-way contest, Fightback’s decision not to preference Brophy could see Large re-elected to the branch executive, which would only bolster the conservative side of the union.
The General Vice-President is another three-way contest. RAFA’s Dylan Griffiths, a hard-left Greens member, is standing against the conservative ticket’s Jen Dowling who is an outspoken Zionist. In a branch where Palestine has been a hotly contested political issue, failing to preference the RAFA candidate could put a Zionist in the executive, making plans to further the Sydney University branch’s pro-Palestine stance more difficult.
Even if Dowling fails to get onto the executive, Fightback are directly preferencing her for the branch committee, along with Thrive’s Ron Clarke. Socialist Alternative’s decision to preference two from the conservative Thrive ticket for branch committee shows their greater concern to promote themselves in alliance with the right rather than building the left-wing of the NTEU.
Any reputation Fightback had for their stance against the Jobs Protection Framework (pushed by national NTEU officials three years ago) has been trashed in the current campaign at USYD. Their electioneering has been characterised by baseless denunciations of left-wing branch committee (and RAFA) members, Nick Riemer and Sophie Cotton, who they have branded as “sell-outs” and falsely accused of winding down the USYD campaign.
Socialist Alternative is supporting the right in the Sydney University NTEU branch committee elections. If they get their way, they will have helped undermine one of the most left-wing branches and given a helping hand to USYD vice-chancellor, Mark Scott, and every other university boss in the country that wants to see a weaker NTEU.
There is nothing militant about that.