We’ll need to bring a lot of industrial power to bear if we’re going to win the enterprise agreements we need. That means putting serious organising work into preparing for open-ended strikes.
1. Important lessons from Sydney Uni
Over twelve months, workers went on strike for a total of nine days. In the past, these sorts of sporadic strikes have won good conditions and beaten back management attacks.
But this time around, despite local and national officials’ statements to the contrary, workers at Sydney have been unsuccessful in defeating management’s attacks. These include an explosion in “education focused” roles with punishing workloads and the abolition of internal advertising for many professional staff positions.
Red Flag has published a detailed analysis of the Sydney Uni campaign. The main take home message is that it’s crucial to build the momentum and seriousness of strikes if we’re going to win.
2. We need open-ended strikes
The biggest strike in the United States last year was an open-ended strike by 48,000 “grad student” staff at the University of California. Supported by strike kitchens run by students, and strike pay, these workers won a 50 percent pay rise over the next eighteen months for the lowest paid workers, as well as improved conditions such as child care.
The University of California strike, along with other recent mass strikes at US universities, should lift our horizons about what’s possible. There’s a useful summary recently published at Jacobin.
3. Systematic organisation is key
Effective open-ended strikes are usually the product of large organising drives. There’s been plenty of talk in Australian unions about adopting the methods of well-known US organiser Jane McAlevey—making lists of workers, systematically approaching each one with a survey or open letter and using these “structure tests” to build majority support for open-ended strike action.
But there’s been very little follow-through on most campuses. This must change if we’re going to turn the tide on management’s neoliberal agenda.
As well as McAlevey’s books and website, there’s this useful presentation on McAlevey’s approach to organising from a 2020 NTEU Fightback forum.
4. Clear, ambitious, specific demands
An approach that makes only vague, unspecific promises (“fair wages”, “fair workloads”) will not drive member engagement, and makes it difficult for rank-and-file unionists to hold our bargaining teams to account.
We need to demand specific, enforceable clauses in the enterprise agreement. An item on the log of claims for “fair workloads” is a lot less useful than a clause specifying that management must fill all vacant positions, for instance. Demanding “fair wages” is less useful than publicising the NTEU’s official national wage claim of CPI plus 1.5 percent.
Some useful clauses—to address workload, outsourcing, casualisation, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment and more—are available on this clickable resource from NTEU Fightback.
5. A change in strategy for our union
For too long, the NTEU leaders have generally had an approach of “partnership” with the managers who run our workplaces. The low point of this strategy was the attempt by the NTEU’s national leadership to impose a national 15 percent wage cut throughout the industry in 2020.
That terrible concession was defeated by a national revolt of rank and file union members. Socialists played a leading role in that fight as part of NTEU Fightback. We need a union that draws on well-established organising methods to build towards open-ended strikes, to win the improvements that we and our students deserve.
While most of us are being hit hard by the biggest cost of living crisis in a generation, Australia’s “big four” banks—Commonwealth, Westpac, ANZ and NAB—have had a record-breaking start to the financial year, posting a combined half-year profit of $17.1 billion. That’s a 19 percent increase from the equivalent period in 2021, and $1.3 billion more than the previous record of $15.8 billion in 2015.
Academic workers at Rutgers University in New Jersey have achieved a stunning victory with a serious campaign of industrial action, centred on an open-ended strike. Their approach is a model for unionists in Australia.
“You’re just a performing fucking monkey”. A racist barb, and one of many pointed moments in Jacky, a Melbourne Theatre Company production currently playing at the Arts Centre. Jacky is about the politics of performing monkeys. It is about racism and exploitation, hypocrisy and resistance.
The South Australian government has followed New South Wales and Victoria to undermine democratic rights. A bi-partisan bill has been rushed through parliament’s lower house, which proposes fines up to $50,000 or three months in jail if protesters “intentionally or recklessly obstruct the public place”.
NTEU Fightback, a rank-and-file union group of the National Tertiary Education Union at the University of Sydney, is calling on staff to vote No in the upcoming ballot on the proposed enterprise agreement. The campaign was launched at a forum on 25 May, attended by over 50 people. A members’ meeting on 13 June will consider the agreement. This week will probably be the first time that members are provided with a full list of proposed changes to our working conditions.
A recent NBC News poll found that 70 percent of US voters don’t want Joe Biden to recontest the presidency next year. Sixty percent feel likewise about Donald Trump. Yet the two men are currently odds-on to face each other in a 2024 re-run of the 2020 presidential election.