Australian University Union censures SEP member during Sydney University strike

In a telling incident during a two-day strike by workers at the University of Sydney (USYD) last week, National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) branch president Nick Riemer prevented a member striking staff to address colleagues at a rally due to staff member policy.

Striking NTEU members at the University of Sydney

Staff member Zac Hambides, who is also a member of the Committee for Public Education and the Socialist Equality Party, asked Riemer to be allowed to address the rally but was refused and said: “I made a political decision.” When Hambides asked Riemer to elaborate, he said, “I don’t want to have this discussion now,” and walked away.

Reimer’s actions were a blatant act of political censorship. The most elementary right of the strikers, who had voted for the walkout and participated in it, is to be able to discuss freely among themselves. Instead, Reimer arrogated to himself the “right” to dictate what issues striking staff could and could not raise, based on his unspoken “political decision.”

Censorship is typical of corporatized unions, which function as a management political police, including in universities. This is particularly noteworthy, given that Riemer is associated with the pseudo-left organization Solidarity, which sometimes calls itself socialist.

He was clearly concerned that Hambides would reveal the fraudulent character of the strike organized by the union and of the entire company agreement process of which he was a part.

The university leadership is demanding that the next agreement include sweeping changes in academic workloads paving the way for a major transformation of the university.

Specifically, all research must be controlled by faculty heads, and the university is seeking to formally abolish the 40/40/20 workload split for academics. Their time is divided between teaching for 40%, research for 40% and administration for 20%. For most academics, their heavy teaching and administrative burdens make the 40/40/20 split a thing of the past.

USYD requirements correspond to the requirements of large companies. In August last year, EY (formerly Ernst & Young) published an article saying in all caps: “HIGHER EDUCATION IS DEAD. LONG LIVE THE KNOWLEDGE SERVICES SECTOR!” He was outlining a proposal in which all academic research is either directly requested by business or is aimed at meeting immediate business needs.

Removing the 40/40/20 restrictions would serve these ends, by allowing faculty leaders to direct more research into areas demanded by business. It would also pave the way for further expansion of casual work in education.

The register of demands of the USYD NTEU does nothing to oppose this pro-market agenda but rather seeks to integrate the union into it. The newspaper calls for indefinite “protections” against excessive workloads and a salary increase of just 4%, well below the increase in the cost of living for non-discretionary elements, which has increased by at least minus 6.6% last year.

The main objective of the union grievance register is to develop more management/union committees under the guise of controlling excessive workload distribution. In practice, such committees would involve behind-the-scenes collaboration aimed at implementing management demands and containing opposition.

By organizing the strike, USYD’s NTEU is trying to give the illusion that the branch is waging a struggle against the management’s agenda. The implication is that the USYD branch is somehow different from other branches and in particular from the national leadership of the NTEU, which became totally discredited in the eyes of the workers after offering university leaderships across the country a pay cut of up to 15% and tens of thousands of jobs. cuts at the start of the pandemic.

This masquerade has already been unveiled. At a meeting of the UYSD NTEU branch this week, Riemer reported that after the two-day strike, “management gave no ground on our key issues.” Despite this, he proclaimed the strike a “huge success” and encouraged workers to participate in the next day of work stoppage scheduled for May 24, to put pressure on management.

This is a totally bankrupt program. The union has now had 15 six-hour sessions with management since the last contract expired in June 2021. According to John Buchannan of the union’s bargaining committee, the only “tangible accomplishments” of any of this have been the inclusion of ‘gender affirmation’ leave. and other types of leave in the worker’s already existing “personal leave” allocation.

The USYD branch leadership’s attempts to subordinate the staff to its clandestine bargains with management are entirely consistent with the union’s national agenda. Over the past two years, while presiding over tens of thousands of job cuts, the union has split staff campus by campus, enforcing one sell-out deal after another.

The more the NTEU is exposed, the more Riemer and other elements of the pseudo-left attempt to suppress criticism of the union while pushing bogus radical rhetoric.

As Riemer blocked Hambides from speaking, Deaglan Godwin, a student member of the USYD Education Action Group and Socialist Alternative, the main pseudo-left group active on campus, was one of the first speakers. Godwin praised the NTEU at USYD, which he said “has a proud tradition of militant picketing”, of “defending” its strikes and “that’s what other unions need to learn”.

In fact, USYD’s NTEU has pushed through a series of regressive corporate deals over the past decade, cementing the university’s position as one of the most corporatized in the country and a proving ground. for attacks on other campuses.

Politically, the strike and associated rally was intended to bolster the fraud that Labor and Greens represent the lesser evil for the Liberal-National in today’s federal election. Besides Hambides, Max Boddy, the Socialist Equality Party candidate for the New South Wales (NSW) Senate, was also barred from addressing the strikers.

However, NSW Greens Senate candidate David Shoebridge was paraded around the picket lines by the NTEU as a supposed education advocate. SEP members pointed out to strikers that the Greens were forming a de facto coalition with the former Labor Gillard government as it introduced billions of dollars in cuts to higher education and forced universities to compete for jobs. registrations.

Adam Bandt, the current leader of the Greens, has made it clear his party is looking to form another alliance with Labor after the May 21 election. Such a government would only deepen the pro-market attack on public education initiated by Hawke-Keating Labor governments in the 1980s and 1990s, and deepened by all subsequent administrations, Labor and Liberal-National.

University staff should reject the political censorship of the NTEU, which is an attack on the rights of workers themselves. Combined with the promotion of the Greens, the attack on the political discussion between the strikers is a clear warning that a capitulation is being prepared.

What is needed is the establishment of rank-and-file committees, independent of the NTEU, in all universities. This is a first step in breaking union-imposed isolation and developing a unified industrial and political struggle by academics and staff on campuses across the country and abroad.

What is needed above all is the socialist perspective that the NTEU has sought to censor. The hundreds of billions allocated to the military and big business, in the form of aid and tax breaks for big business and the wealthy, must be redirected to meet social needs, including education and health care. health.

This poses the need for a struggle to establish a workers’ government that would implement socialist policies, including bringing banks and corporations under public ownership and democratic workers’ control. This is the only way to end the creeping corporatisation of higher education, imposed by Labour, the Greens and the unions.

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Authorized by Cheryl Crisp for the Socialist Equality Party, Suite 906, 185 Elizabeth Street, Sydney, NSW, 2000.

Donald E. Patel