Thousands protest education cuts in Sydney

Friday, May 23, 2014
UTS strike drew more than 3000 people. Photo: Peter Boyle

More than 2000 teaching staff and students took part in a joint protest outside the University of Technology Sydney on May 21.

A strike called by the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) was supported by a picket line formed by students, who were engaging in a national protest against the federal governments harsh education cuts.

The protest received extensive media coverage, including the Daily Telegraph, the ABC and Channel 7.

Andy Zephyr, President of the UTS Student’s Association and UTS communications student said: “For so many media outlets to be focusing on the strike is phenomenal and fantastic, and shows that people everywhere are displeased with the Abbott government, and the media is tuning into that and going ‘we need to focus on this more’.”

The picket line and the UTS component of the national day of action was organised by the Student’s Association. The strike was the result of a unanimous vote on May 1 by UTS staff to undertake industrial action over their bargaining agreement.

NTEU member Keiko Yasukawa said staff were seeking “career paths … to expand equity at UTS, adequate leave provisions for domestic violence, fair pay [and a] fair workload”. She said hours staff worked were “either unmanageable” or there were “no working hours as such”.

Yasukawa also said the high rate of casualisation caused distress for the more than 60% of staff employed on a casual basis. She said “many of our academics would seek a PhD in their own time, with a view to maximise their chances of getting a more secure position; it’s really exploitative of their labour”.

The staff were also asking for 20 days of leave for staff experiencing domestic violence. UTS management’s counter-offer was for three days.

At 11am, the strike merged with a contingent from the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU), which is also bargaining for better work rights. The unionists came bearing banners and flags, chanting “We’re here, we’re loud, we’re union and we’re proud”.

The combined rally heard from speakers from Unions NSW, the NTEU and Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon.

Students and staff from other universities, including a group from the University of New England and Newcastle, met at UTS at 2pm, raising the rally size to almost 3000.

The group marched down George Street accompanied by 100 riot police, as well as police horses and several police vehicles.

After one protester was arrested for lighting a flare, the rally staged a sit-down protest against the arrest at the intersection of George and Hay streets.

The march then continued to Town Hall, where the protesters held another sit-in to raise awareness for their cause.

The police presence at Town Hall was extensive. Witnesses alleged a pregnant woman with a pram who was trying to leave the area was pushed in the face by a police officer.

Andy Zephyr said: “As we move further and further into July when the senate ticks over, we’re going to see more and more protests from students.”

From GLW issue 1010