“What’s disgusting? Union busting” was the most popular chant at a protest outside Victoria University’s Melbourne city campus on 2 November. The action, organised by the National Tertiary Education Union, was called to coincide with a meeting of the University Council, the body responsible for what one worker described as the “carnage” at the institution.

Elected members of the union branch committee, including the branch president, have been issued forced redundancies by the university. The sackings, wiping out the union leadership on campus, were announced as the university begins negotiations with staff over a new collective agreement.

Meanwhile, vice-chancellor Peter Dawkins has just been awarded a $70,000 pay rise to top up his current salary of $795,000. Adding to union members’ anger are reports that, while citing “a budget crisis”, university management has spent nearly $1 million on legal and human resources consultancy fees to slash jobs and attack the union.

Speaking at the rally, branch president Paul Adams said, “I have been the only one singled out for a forced retrenchment in the whole college of arts and education”. But he remained defiant, going on to say, “What they need to realise upstairs is that they can sack us and they can outlaw us, but we will continue to help each other. Unions are based on fairness and equality, they can’t get rid of that”.

The secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Sally McManus, joined the protest. “Your rank and file leaders are standing up to the bosses. They can only do that when they know they have the support of the staff behind them … We can never accept union leaders getting sacked; we have to have their backs at all times”, she said.

Members and officials from the ANMF, CFMEU, NUW, and MUA, as well as NTEU members from branches across the state, also attended. Ralph Edwards, Victorian president of the CFMEU, offered his members’ solidarity to the sacked workers, urging them to keep fighting.

Dave Garland, a VU worker and one of the branch committee members threatened with the sack, welcomed the action. “It’s great to see the solidarity from other unions, from students and staff. It looks like the start of a really promising campaign, and we’re looking forward to the next rally.”

Campaign updates and an open letter to the vice-chancellor can be found at www.facebook.com/FriendsOfVU