The shocking announcement a few weeks ago of the largest ever mass sackings in Australia’s higher education sector at Victoria University (VU) prompted a well attended protest rally in a quiet time of the academic year.
Seven hundred NTEU members and supporters gathered at the Athenaeum Theatre in Melbourne to oppose job cuts and the degradation of higher education.
VU is in the working class suburb of Footscray. Two hundred and fifty jobs are to be slashed, but Vice Chancellor Liz Harman is facing a revolt over job cuts with the NTEU set to take a range of industrial action including strikes over the next few months. The message that no university should fight alone was strongly posed by contributions from the floor of the protest meeting.
RMIT is seeking ten voluntary redundancies at two schools, health sciences and arts, but the union fears there is the potential for more losses as budgets are squeezed.
Melbourne University members are successfully holding off sackings. After protesting, handing out leaflets, holding meetings and campaigning the university has offered a further round of voluntary redundancies or measures other than sackings. Although not ideal this is a partial victory.
Collective bargaining is being held up nationally, but the NTEU executive has put members on a war footing.
A memo from the NTEU leadership called for us to prepare for “coordinated industrial action commencing in early 2009. Such a campaign should include an agreed day or days for national strike action”.
This decision was made after many of the national executive members of the NTEU judged the mood of attendees at the rally, calling for coordinated industrial action to win demands, jobs and pay. It was clear that while Victorian universities are leading the way with job cuts, other universities nationwide may follow, unless our action halts them. Education staff and students should not be paying for the crazy priorities of the free market. The NTEU is gearing up for this fight.
By Melanie Lazarow