At the time of writing, a special meeting of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) National Council is to decide whether to commit $1 million to the Greens’ and Independent MP Andrew Wilkie’s election campaigns. The union leadership seems to be convinced that this is the right thing for the union to do.
It is an action that will do nothing for the members of the union, funnelling money that could be used for a real campaign into a dead end. The higher education sector is facing over $2.3 billion in cuts. They will exclude more working class students from higher education. Students have led the way in resisting these cuts, but staff are angry too.
Even before the government’s announcement, universities across the country had begun slashing courses, sacking staff, attacking working conditions and even attempting to block the union from representing its members. Now we are in the middle of bargaining for new collective agreements. In some places workers have been fighting back, conducting ballots and taking industrial action. Most notably, staff at the University of Sydney have already taken part in four strikes.
So the NTEU has an opportunity to wage an industrial and political campaign against the cuts. The proposed million dollar donation to the Greens has been justified with the argument that it will support the union’s campaign in the run-up to the election, although how it could do that is not at all clear. Furthermore, it is said that the Greens might hold the balance of power in the Senate under a future Coalition government.
There is nothing wrong in principle with unions making donations to political parties that will support our aims. In this instance, however, it is the wrong move. Over the course of this parliament, the Greens have done nothing to warrant such a huge donation from the union. They, along with the independents, have provided a prop for the neoliberal agenda of the Labor Party. It is a gamble, to say the least, to stake a campaign on the unlikely event of the Greens both holding the balance in the Senate and using that position to block anti-worker legislation – as opposed to wresting only a few paltry concessions, as has been their practice to date, in the name of being “responsible”.
The indications are that thousands of members want to fight the national cuts. Sacrificing a million dollars to the Greens will not help us win.