Sydney uni staff, students step up resistance to cutbacks

About 1500 staff and students rallied at the University of Sydney on April 4. Photo: NTEU NSW Division/Facebook

In the largest protest so far in a campaign that has grown steadily since the start of semester, 1500 University of Sydney students and staff rallied on April 4 to protest against the university management's move to sack 360 academic and general staff.

The protest marched through the university chanting “staff and students say: no cuts, no way” and “they say cutback we say fightback”. At the end of the protest, 100 students occupied the arts administration building for several hours.

Michael Thompson, branch president of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), told Green Left Weekly: “The NTEU is going to make sure the vice chancellor and the university management know we don't accept their staff cuts. We know there are extra students, we know there is money.”

As management is pushing the job cuts, it is outlaying millions on a new pool and a huge obesity research centre, which take up as much space as the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Thompson told the rally that plans to cut staff “have more to do with the big end of town, with big capital — they have nothing to do with what we as a university need and want”.

Student Representative Council President Phoebe Drake told the rally that if the cuts go ahead students will be “crammed into lecture theatres and oversized tutorials”.

Drake said academic and general staff are essential for students, and student conditions “are under threat from those in the university that measure an individual’s education by the dollar sign in front of it”.

Freya Bundey, from the university’s Education Action Group, told the rally that management was going ahead “despite overwhelming student and staff opposition against all staff cuts, despite 4000 signatures against the cuts, despite the 700 strong rally in week three and despite the opposition of 70 lecture halls of students”.

Patrick Harrison from the University of Sydney Resistance Club told GLW: “University management is on an austerity drive and we are seeing 'degree-mill' style education, which is making education a product to be sold for a profit rather than an important part of society regardless of its ‘monetary value’.”

Other universities are also attacking university staff. The Australian National University's vice chancellor has called for $40 million in budget cuts and the axing of 150 staff. A protest rally in response is planned for April 26. Macquarie University's management sacked 70 staff late last year and is pushing for more cuts.

NTEU University of Sydney branch vice president Damien Cahill told GLW: “Whatever happens here will be a signal to the rest of the sector in Australia. Students and staff need to stand together to stop these cuts — and hopefully, we can stop them here and that movement will spread out to the rest of the country.”

The next step in the campaign is a student walkout and march on April 24, which will meet at 10:15am in the university quad. A university referendum will take place on May 1 and 2 to show the broad opposition to the cuts. A mass rally is also planned for noon on May 8.

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