The power in the picket line

March 26, 2013
Picket line at Sydney University. Photo: Peter Boyle

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) at the University of Sydney is involved in an industrial battle with the administration over pay, conditions and casualisation.

As part of this campaign, the union held a 24-hour strike on March 6. Staff and students held pickets outside all campus entrances, and the university was largely shut down for the day.

The multiple picket lines converged on the main entrance to the university for a midday rally, which attracted hundreds of staff and supporters. There were many speakers including unionists, student representatives and the Greens.

Labor Senator Doug Cameron and a spokesperson from Unions NSW also spoke and after congratulating the strikers, warned of the threat of a Tony Abbott government. They pointed out that Liberal governments are no friends of unions, and have aggressively attacked education budgets in Queensland and Victoria.

But they failed to mention that Labor is in government nationally, and has often pushed the same anti-worker reforms.

This strike stands in opposition to the policies of both the major parties — it is organising against cuts to education, against casualisation and against cuts to the pay of workers.

Universities are facing the same problems that all industries are facing, that is, that cuts are necessary and workers jobs and conditions must be sacrificed, an idea accepted by Labor and Liberal.

In manufacturing, transport, hospitality, everywhere employers use the excuse of “flexibility” to push more of the workforce into casual work, and deny their right to sick leave, holiday pay and regular hours. It leaves people vulnerable to having their hours cut if they get on the wrong side of the boss or join a union.

A win at Sydney university will be a blow to these neoliberal ideas and will show the economy does have the resources to provide an accessible and well-funded education system — and this is more important than increasing the profits of corporations or limiting the expenditure of the government.

The staff and students involved in the dispute at Sydney university are in an especially important strategic position. The university, for all the shackles of neoliberalism, and the increasing corporatisation of education, is still a centre of ideas.

Campus is a place where students can develop an understanding of the economic and political systems they live under and use that to dissent against existing structures.

Because of this, students and staff must fight not just to defend the quality of education, but to extend the role of universities to serve society, for example by taking up international issues and challenging discrimination based on gender, race and class.

A second strike will take place at Sydney university on March 26 and 27. The leaders of the fightback movement will not be found in parliament but on the picket line. Workers organising and fighting for their rights is the only way to get a better deal.

Resistance believes there is a need to build a political leadership that’s not based in parliament but based on ordinary people fighting for a better deal.

We aim to build a political movement that does not accept that money is the bottom line, but articulates an alternative that puts people and the environment first.

Resistance members are part of the NSW Cross Campus Education Action Network which is building a student campaign against education cuts on multiple campuses across NSW.

We need to build a political alternative to the trend of continuing staff, subject and department cuts, rising fees and costs, casualisation of staff, bigger classes, less class time and less face-to-face contact, and the NTEU strike shows how that opposition can be built.

[For more information visit the Facebook event “Join NTEU Picket Line (48) Hours Strike)”.]

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