Sydney Uni staff are preparing for a two day strike, following the 24-hour strike that paralysed the university on 7 March, with classes cancelled and hundreds of union members joining picket lines to close down the campus.
Staff are demanding the university back down on an outrageous attack on working conditions in their new agreement, including plans to slash sick leave, abolish provisions on working hours, end limits on casualisation and deliver a real pay cut. Management also wants to kick the union office off campus, end its right to challenge management decisions and hold members’ meetings and write the union out of the agreement.
There was strong student support for the strike, with the SRC backing it and advertising the day heavily. On the day student activists joined the picket lines and helped argue with other students not to cross to attend class.
This staff and student action came off the back of a vibrant campaign last year to stop the University from sacking 350 staff, that saw students walk out of lectures, occupy the Dean of Arts office and rally in numbers not seen since the student mobilisation against Voluntary Student Unionism in 2006.
“Those previous job cuts were so arbitrary that people are worried about things like that happening in future and the union seems like the best defence against that,” Anne Thomas from the school of maths and statistics told Solidarity.
The picket lines at all entrances to the University succeeded in ensuring the campus was largely deserted. Though some staff and students were able to cross the pickets a strong line of picketers ensured this decision could not be made lightly. The pickets were maintained from 7am, and successfully banked up traffic and turned around contractors and other staff trying to get in. It was inspiring to watch workers drive away in solidarity and very satisfying to know all management’s scheduling would be thrown out by the disruption.
As NTEU branch president Michael Thomson told Solidarity, “The strike was enormously successful. There were between 300 and 400 NTEU members involved in the picket lines. The university was shut down, with the number of people walking down Eastern Avenue less than on a weekend.”
The whole day was very exuberant with big bright banners and placards everywhere, someone playing “Solidarity Forever” on the trumpet and very enthusiastic pickets.
At midday the pickets converged for a rally of around 500 with a good mix of students and staff. At the conclusion of the speakers, students and staff marched down to the Vice-Chancellor’s office in the main quad, blowing horns and making some disruptive fun.
After the strike, “for the first time ever the university management engaged in bargaining and answered some of our queries”, Michael said. But management is yet to back down on its sweeping list of attacks on staff.
“The union had a members meeting [after the strike], 220 people were there, many have not been engaged in industrial action before. The meeting voted to follow up with a 48-hour strike unless the management signs the Heads of Agreement,” said Michael.
The NTEU has called the 48-hour strike for 27 and 28 March. It is incredibly important that we continue to build on the first strike and shut down the university in its entirety for these two days. Unless we draw a line in the sand here the long-term decline in the quality of tertiary education will continue, and many of the working rights and conditions that staff have fought for will be abolished. To do this requires not only militancy on the picket lines but a commitment to campaigning on campus to raise the argument over why students should support the staff strike too.
Asking students to skip a single class is one thing, asking them to skip two days of classes or more requires us to ensure the staff campaign has broad support amongst the student body and consistently link the staff fight to the fight for a better education.
By making these arguments and politically convincing students and staff of the importance of this fight we can shut down classes during the 48-hour strike. Everyone should come down and join the picket lines.
By Danny Hardiman
Picket lines start 6:45am on Tuesday 26th March and Wednesday 27th March, meet at City Rd entrance
Student march and roaming picket on Tuesday 26th March, meeting at 9:30am at the picket line
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