On the 8-10th of October the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) will once again be taking industrial action. The members of the NTEU (casual and academic staff at Sydney University) will be stopping work for these three days and encouraging students not to go to class in an act of protest against the University’s current treatment of its staff. The NTEU is doing this because they believe our staff deserved to be treated with dignity and respect in their workplace, and deserve to be paid a respectable wage so they can afford life’s necessities, like food, shelter, clothing, and so on.
The NTEU is also taking this action as they believe students deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and deserve to receive world-class education. Students cannot receive the level of education they deserve if their staff are treated poorly. Staff working conditions really are student learning conditions.
You can’t exploit people and expect wondrous results, just like you’d cry out in protest (rightly so) if your boss overworked and exploited you and then complained that your productivity hadn’t increased.
If you want to take this down to its most basic (and crude) level – a car won’t run if it doesn’t have petrol in its tank and its engine isn’t looked after. The driver can’t expect results if he does not do this, just like bosses of all sorts cannot expect results if they mistreat and exploit their staff. The product or service these workers produce will not be of a high quality if the workers themselves are not looked after. This is obviously not even beginning to consider the most important argument here that these are human beings that deserve to be treated with respect and compassion, no matter what their occupation (and whether they have one or not). However, if you wish to look at this only as an economic debate, you’ll see that it is actually in the University’s interest to agree to the union’s requests for respect and dignity at work.
I feel extremely uncomfortable comparing the incredibly talented and hardworking staff at our university to cars or machinery of any sort. However, I fear that is how the University views them – as cogs in their machine. So, I have two requests to the University management. Firstly, to realise that you can provide the best service possible (providing quality education to the current generation) when you nurture and respect your employees. And secondly, and even more importantly, that you start treating these people as more than just workers. They are first and foremost human beings, like yourselves. Human beings that are entitled to fundamental rights, and who won’t stop until they get them.
If you agree with these sentiments, please consider not going to class. You may be hesitant about supporting the NTEU’s campaign, and joining the strike, due to the behaviour of some of the students involved in previous strikes. The, so called, “rolling-picket” may have come into your lecture, where the protestors turned off the lights, shut the doors and stood at the front of the theatre yelling and screaming at you. Understandably, this could leave you less than enthused about the campaign. I want you to know that this is not what the campaign is about and this is definitely not what the NTEU is about and not what many in the SRC are about.
This is not militant industrial action that ‘politicises the masses’, as those involved may have tried to sell it to you as, it’s nothing but the quickest way to alienate the students that would have otherwise considered supporting the campaign. Those that claim they’re being militant with actions like these misunderstand what militancy is and misunderstand what unionism is. They misunderstand collectivism and solidarity.
Unionism is about everyone coming together for the common good, to protect everyone’s interests and ensure all workers are treated with respect and dignity and are fairly compensated for their labour. Militancy is about passionately defending workers’ rights and ensuring that bosses are not allowed to get away with exploitation, it is about demanding fundamental human rights are upheld. It is about the strategic use of industrial action and direct action. It is not about abusively yelling and screaming at those who do not yet understand what the campaign is about, and are not responsible for any mistreatment of the workers. However, it is not really ever about abusing people. It is about collectively coming together to strategically use industrial action to have our rights upheld. Many misunderstand the term militant industrial action and misunderstand the best ways in which to explain the union’s demands to potential supporters.
If you have been treated in this way, I am sorry. Not because of personal responsibility of this “flying picket” (because I have never participated in it, and in fact have argued passionately against it at all points of the campaign). I am sorry because this is not what unionism is about and I am sorry that this was, for many of you, your first experience with unions and industrial action. This is not what unionism, militancy or industrial actions are about – not in any sense of the words.
Abusive actions are not what the NTEU is about and not what I, as one of the two SRC education officers, are about. I hope this report clarifies slightly what the campaign, and unionists, are really about. I’m for helping the most vulnerable; i’m for equality, respect and dignity. I’m for everyone having his or her fundamental human rights upheld. If you too, share these values, please realise you can support the campaign without endorsing the behaviour of a minority (albeit a very loud minority) of individuals involved. They do not represent the campaign.
If you’re for equality, collectivism and respect, and you will passionately defend those values, – you’re a true militant unionist.
Names were ommitted from this article due to SRC Electoral regualtions.