The university pay cut deal is defeated. It's a win for rank and file activism
The university pay cut deal is defeated. It's a win for rank and file activism

The National Tertiary Education Union’s "Jobs Protection Framework" was withdrawn today after a rank-and-file rebellion in the union. 

The deal allowed for pay cuts of up to 15 percent, or $375 a fortnight for a worker on the median female full-time wage of $65,000. Despite the claims of its authors, the supposedly left-wing national leaders of the union, such sacrifices did not prevent job losses.

This is a vindication of all of the thousands of rank-and-file NTEU activists across the country that have organised themselves in their workplaces in recent weeks.  The Framework was hugely unpopular, more so as its content was made clear. Branch after branch rejected the framework. Just today, meetings of hundreds at the Australian National University (ANU) and Monash University passed motions of opposition to the deal. All universities except one voted against the framework in Sydney, while earlier this week, the University of New England also voted No.

But none of that happened automatically. The work of the NTEU Fightback campaign, which Socialist Alternative members played a central role in, was essential in achieving this result. Pushing ahead with the vital work of contacting union members across the country, winning the arguments to oppose the officials’ sellout, finding the next person who could be convinced to stand up at a union meeting and argue against the Framework, endless debates, arranging meetings on campus after campus, were the essential rank and file organising done by activists across the country without which opposition to the Framework would have remained isolated, a source of discontent amongst like-minded friends.

Instead, the campaign against the framework has energised the delegate networks of the union in an unprecedented way. That puts union activists in the best position to resist the attacks on jobs or conditions. And it raises an idea of what a union should be – one that stands up for its members and refuses to accept that workers should bear the cost of this historic crisis.

While the framework is dead as a national agreement, some university administrations are pushing ahead with all-staff ballots to reduce pay and conditions. The University of Melbourne will hold a non-union ballot to scrap a 2.2 per cent pay rise that workers have already received. Alarmingly, at the three campuses where VCs signed up to the framework – UWA, La Trobe and Monash – the NTEU leadership is still are pushing ahead with their deal. These vice chancellors have signed up not because they are kinder, or in any sense pro-union, but because they think the Framework will assist them in undermining workers' wages and conditions.

University bosses, like all their class, are keen to solve the economic crisis exacerbated by the pandemic at our expense. We need a fighting response that fights for every dollar and every job.

Our union officials have proven that the ideas of class collaboration, that the role of unions is to work out a deal with the bosses to "save the higher education sector", is a dead end for workers.

And this lesson is not confined to higher education. We can expect more class collaboration from union leaders. In response to Scott Morrison’s announcement of an "Accord 2.0" today, the ACTU’s response was to “welcomes the opportunity to sit down with the government and employers”.

We’ve been through this movie before.  Manufacturing workers’ leader Doug Cameron spelt out how his union cooperated in the original Accord process in the 1980s – and at what cost to the members. “We have sought real partnerships and been betrayed … we have benchmarked; we have introduced teams; we have talked endlessly about training and competency with almost no results … We have innovated; we have been flexible; we have restructured the Award; we have simplified the Award; we have strived for best practice in manufacturing workplaces; we have bargained and bargained and bargained. None of this has been enough for government or employers … The workers have been abandoned to market forces and the latest fads, such as downsizing, contracting out or re-engineering.”


Statement from NTEU Fightback:

Rank and File Union Activism Defeats the Framework

The National Framework, developed by Vice Chancellors and the NTEU national leadership, has collapsed today amid a growing groundswell of rank and file revolt from the membership.

We say good riddance to the Framework – and that the fight has to continue.

The collapse of the Framework is a significant victory for the growing movement of NTEU members who have organised together to do everything from forwarding emails, local workplace meetings, and record breaking union branch meetings to vote the Framework down.

We’ve rebelled against colossal wage cuts, against the gutting of major change provisions and – most profoundly – against a vision of unionism that sees the main role of unions as sitting at the table, devising and implementing cuts in wages and conditions, rather than organising workers to resist attacks.

The Framework is dead and that’s great. It’s a step forward that our union on a national level will no longer be an active participant in these sickening attacks.

However, everyone knows that this is far from the end of the story. The same battle – over attacks on our pay and conditions, and over the role of our union – is already playing out at a local level.

University administrations have already initiated all-staff ballots to approve attacks on wages and conditions. The University of Melbourne will hold a non-union ballot on June 9 June, to attack wages and the change consultation clause by varying the enterprise agreement there. La Trobe University has stated it will ballot all staff in the week starting 8 June or 15 June. Monash and the UWA are also seeking  variation in enterprise agreements.

NTEU Fightback activists will be organising Vote No campaigns against all these variations. The union’s national leadership, however, is still clinging to the wreckage of the Framework and still pushing for the severe attacks on wages that go with it.

[National President] Alison Barnes’s email to members indicates that the union will ballot members next week at institutions which have signed up to the Framework. Organising to Vote No is still crucial at all of those campuses.

Serious attacks on jobs and workload are intensifying daily: they require an organised and determined response. NTEU Fightback activists will help to build that response.

So expanding the resistance is urgent – and so is rebuilding our union to better fight and defeat these attacks.

Join us for this crucial meeting tomorrow night about how rank and file activism beat the Framework, and how rank and file organising points the way forward through the current crisis and beyond.

Zoom link -

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