Just over a month ago, members of the National Tertiary Education Union were told that their national union leaders were preparing to sell out workers’ pay and conditions. Yesterday, the proposal crumbled after a national uprising of the union’s rank and file. Red Flag helped to break the story, provided more detailed reporting and analysis of the unfolding rebellion, explained the political and strategic questions, and – happily for us – we were even able to report on the victory.
Workers in the university sector are now going to face many other battles. With no hope of an orderly national sell-out, vice chancellors will try to ram through their own packages campus-by-campus job cuts and attacks on pay and conditions. We’re going to be there reporting as those struggles unfold, supporting and providing a platform to the worker activists fighting back against bosses.
And we’re well placed to do it. As a socialist publication, we’re connected to the on-the-ground networks of worker activists who led the resistance to the proposed deal. Red Flag is published by Socialist Alternative, and our members include many of the most prominent rank-and-file activists in the NTEU who founded the “NTEU Fightback” campaign group and travelled (by Zoom) between NTEU branch meetings all over the country to explain why the deal was rotten.
On 8 April, the NTEU emailed its members to encourage them to “consider measures that we would never normally consider”, including – it soon turned out – massive pay cuts. That very night we published an article that exposed the attempted sellout, rebuttal the NTEU leadership’s arguments, and argued for an alternative strategy fighting back against bosses. That first article was one of our most popular, and it was written, like most of our workplace coverage, by two trade union members. One of them, Alma Torlakovic, would soon secure a massive vote in her University of Sydney NTEU branch rejecting the framework; our article reporting on that vote also announced the birth of the NTEU Fightback group that would soon cohere a national campaign to resist the union leadership’s attempted sellout.
Since then, we’ve featured articles attacking the government for its undermining of university funding while continuing to document the growing revolt in the NTEU itself. Workers’ resistance in unions aren’t usually covered well by the mainstream media, but our writers are union activists themselves, in a rare position of leading a national rebellion against a union leadership. We could exposed past rotten deals made by NTEU officials and the methods they used to sideline dissenters. Through Red Flag, NTEU members could explain why the fight in the NTEU mattered to all workers and unionists, and why unions experience internal disputes dividing their officials from the rank and file. Higher education isn’t the only industry that will be thrown into turmoil by the coronavirus and the NTEU won’t be the only union whose leadership tries to impose bad deals on its members. We tried to provide a forum in which NTEU members could build solidarity with workers in other industries.
It’s not easy to put out a regular publication with no sponsorship or advertising. But we have a unique resource helping us out: we’re connected to some of Australia’s best trade union militants, and when working-class struggle breaks out, we want workers to explain their struggles and argue their case through Red Flag. It’s what makes our publication unique in Australia, and now it means we’ve built a unique record of the first phase of workers’ struggle in the era of the coronavirus. We hope it’s been helpful to members of the NTEU, and we want to help more in future, as there are clearly more struggles ahead in the higher education sector and elsewhere. We’ll keep covering them, and sharing the voices of leading worker-activists. If you think that’s worth having in Australia please subscribe or donate to be part of our project, to help sustain it, and to help it grow.