David Pink reports back from the alternative education conference, EduFactory

An Education Network

“Previously activists in education have been disconnected, geographically fragmented, without the capacity for coordination, and dependent on the whim of bureaucracies beyond our control. We aim to resolve these difficulties, and to take immediate action on education.

We propose that there be a national education network established, to fight attacks on education. This network will prosecute campaigns against cuts against fees, for autonomy, for diversity and for education funding. We believe that education should be democratic and participatory, and not run by bureaucrats in the interests of capital and the state; we stand for a democratic society.

This network regards itself as wholly distinct and autonomous from any other existing groups that claim, truly or falsely, to represent us, though it does not exclude the possibility of working with such groups. This network instead regards itself as an association of activists in the education sector and not as representatives.

This network will maintain a Facebook Group and Email list. It will endeavour to have members in every state and territory, or if that is not possible, from a broad geographic range, as part of this project it will endeavour to establish state networks. Anyone involved in education who agrees with the objectives of the network may join by attending a meeting.

This network will be governed by meetings at Edufactory, and by phone linkups between conferences. All decisions, unless delegated, will be made through these meetings. The method of decision-making will be consensus, and if consensus should not be achieved, a two-thirds majority vote.

This network will support local and regional organising by education activists and, where possible, work with activist associations on relevant campaigns.

This network sees grassroots education action groups (or other local activist formations) as vital to building a network of education activism nationally, and encourages those groups to actively participate in the network. This network will if capable, support these grassroots groups in forming.

For the name of this organisation we propose, ‘Class Action’.”

Passed by an overwhelming majority of participants of EduFactory 2013.

26 April 2013

Fighting cuts to higher education

The federal government’s decision to cut $2.3 billion out of higher education funding is a disgrace. The idea that the only way we can fund public education is by robbing Peter to pay Paul – to cut university funding and student support, in order to boost Gonski  – is absurd. It’s definitely going to see the quality of your education decrease, and without a doubt harm educational opportunities for new tertiary students (even if their schools are great).

Last week, at Academic Board, I had an opportunity to ask the Acting Vice-Chancellor, Stephen Garton, what sort of cuts we were looking at. His answer: something in the order of $50 million. Where were these cuts going to come from? All areas, including faculties.  Would this affect the EBA negotiations? It would sharpen discussion about what was realistic. Would there be redundancies? The University would obviously like to avoid dismissing anyone, and priority would go to simply not filling vacancies, but staff cuts would definitely be on the table. General staff cuts and administrative efficiencies would be prioritised over cuts to teaching and research.

The SRC really wants to avoid a fight with the University over cuts, like we had last year. Our side won that battle, but there’s no guarantee the outcome would be the same this time around.

We want to keep this fight national, against the government and their disastrous cuts.

So what will we do?

Both staff unions, the NTEU and the CPSU/PSA, and the national student union, NUS, have indicated there will be a real and powerful fightback.
The National Union of Students has indicated that May 14 will be the day for a national student strike. Whether this will involve student pickets around every university in the country, or something more resembling a massive rally in every capital city, is yet to be determined.

The NTEU will be discussing at their National Executive meeting the prospect of calling a Community Day of Action on May 14 in co-ordination with the NUS. It is as yet unclear whether or not this will involve industrial action.

The CPSU/PSA have indicated that they will be “consulting with [their] members state-wide to identify the areas of greatest risk to jobs and services and develop a plan to protect university education in NSW.”

The SRC is fully behind NUS’ plans for May 14. As a snap action, we will be holding a speak out with the Cross-Campus Education Action Network next Wednesday April 24 at 12 pm outside Fisher Library.

The EduFactory! Conference being held at the University of Sydney from this Thursday-Sunday (April 25-28) will be an important opportunity to organise the national student strike. There will be over 300 activists from around the country all in one place, and the timing could not be better.

Check out the Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/489445797742449/?fref=ts

It’s not too late to register. And there has never been a better opportunity to get involved.

David Pink is not happy about $2.3 billion in cuts to higher education funding

So I woke up yesterday to find out that the Education Minister had decided to strip $2.3 billion out of higher education funding. Why has the government decided to initiate the single biggest cut to the university sector since 1996? To fund Gonski.

So basically the Federal government’s response to a funding crisis in the public school system has just been to embiggen the funding crisis in the university system, by churning the money around.

The government will be making the following ‘savings’ from higher education:
– an ‘efficiency dividend’ of 2% for for 2014 and 1.25 % for 2015 ($900 million)
– the conversion of student start-up scholarships to a HECS loan ($1.2 billion)
– the removal of the 10% up-front payment HECS discount ($228.5 million)

We support the changes to the HECS discount. This has been a glaring inequality for far too long, and for little purpose other than favouring the rich.
However, the other changes are a disgrace. In particular, it smacks of hypocrisy for a government which has deregulated student places – and thus decided to place thousands more students into universities – to simply pull out the money needed to maintain student support.

Fortunately, this is one issue where the university management are our allies. And they’ve been quick to condemn the cuts.

According to the Chair of Universities Australia, Glyn Davis: “The cuts come on top of the $1billion stripped out of the system less than 6 months ago through the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook process.”

Their research shows that 87% of Australian parents support greater funding for universities. They value university just as much as primary and secondary schools. This is why the cuts just don’t make sense: education at all levels is important, the government should be funding universities and schools equally, not playing divide and rule.

Our reaction will be fierce. Next Wednesday, on April 24th, we will be having a day of action outside Fisher Library in protest commencing at 2 pm. I ask you to join us.

David Pink talks about student activism

Wow, what a whirlwind week of activism it’s been. We’ve pulled off a successful two day strike with the NTEU and CPSU. We had a National Day of Action that saw hundreds of students mobilize at UTS and march to Sydney Uni to help build the pickets. We sat down on City Rd and shut down traffic. It was amazing.

Across the country Sydney had the most successful and well-attended National Day of Action. In my opinion this was because it wasn’t constrained by hierarchical organising and was instead fueled by a genuine grassroots movement. CCEAN, the primary body that organized for the National Day of Action in NSW, agrees. It passed the following motion for consideration by education activists around the country:

“The CCEAN calls for the formation of autonomous rank and file networks in states and regions across Australia. We call on these networks to fight back effectively and without bureaucracy against the brutal attacks of all major parties on education. Where currently there exists a culture of anti-democratic, inaccessible and inept student organising, we call for a broad student movement from outside the cadres of aspiring parliamentarians and union bureaucrats. The CCEAN will provide support to students in their efforts to organise autonomously with advice, solidarity, and within our means material assistance. We will also support such efforts to organise on a national and global scale.”

In Hope,
The Cross Campus Education Action Network

We need to organise now. Our education has been under attack for decades by successive neoliberal governments, and the attacks by the coming Abbott government will probably be more severe than any that preceded it. The point of the CCEAN motion is that we need to start organising ourselves rather than waiting for others to do so, and on our own terms. The era of student politics being run by self-interested hacks fighting for a career, rather than by students fighting for a future, must end.

Our tutorials are packed. Our courses are being cut. Housing costs a limb. Many of us cannot afford proper nutrition. We have to choose between having enough money and enough time to study. We’re stuffed with titanic debt that takes years to repay and that many of us never will. We’re resentful, stressed, we’re bubbling, seething. It’s time to bring together our anger and begin to build mass organisation. Everything we had, like free education, had to be fought for. We can win it back, and more.

David Pink is enraged with the machine

Some of the most vehement smears coming out of Management’s PR machine is that  the NTEU is asking for wage rises above community expectations, and that the University’s offer of a 2% per annum wage increase is a “reasonable” offer. As staff go out on strike for 48 hours this Tuesday and Wednesday, I thought I’d devote this report to an excerpt from an open letter circulated by Rowanne Couch, a staff member in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. It goes some way to disposing of the smoke and mirrors game being played by the University:

The University is offering a 2% per annum wage increase over the term of the next enterprise agreement. In effect this is an offer to accept a decline in real wages in return for staff delivering on these nebulous productivity gains. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that the cost of living in Sydney as represented by the Consumer Price Index rose by 2.4% in the 12 months to December 2012. Examining the ABS Wage Price Index we can see a 3.4% increase in private sector wages and a 3.2% increase in public sector wages nationally over the same period (ABS 6401.0, ABS 6345.0). Are we expecting these trends to reverse?

There are few ways to parse this offer that aren’t ridiculous. Should staff perhaps retaliate with an offer to deliver an annual 0.4%-1.4% decline in productivity to account for the real wages forfeited over the term of the agreement? I think not. While I understand that both parties in a negotiation of this nature indulge in the time-honoured ritual of inflated ambit claims at both ends of the spectrum, the University’s intransigence on this aspect of the offer is disheartening.

It is also a fact that the costing assumptions made available to staff to assist with budgeting last year assumed a 3% per annum increase in salaries over the period 2013-2015. If 3% is already in the University’s sights in a rolling budget approved by Senate, then surely insistence on a 2% offer in the current bargaining round is derisory.

In the absence of a proposed increase in real wages, where is the demonstrable protection of hard-won non-cash benefits that might allow us to consider the required productivity gains a ‘trade-off?’

One of the reasons most often cited colloquially among staff to justify their continued loyalty to the University, despite the attractions of higher salaries on offer in industry and elsewhere, is that the non-cash benefits of our contracts (should we be lucky enough not to work as casuals) are a tacit acknowledgement of the University’s commitment to the well-being of its workforce. Among these, our superannuation, maternity leave and sick leave benefits are standouts.

I have no doubt that you of all people would recognise the importance of history in helping us understand our present predicaments. Those with long enough institutional memories will remember that trade-offs in previous enterprise bargaining rounds were predicated on acceptance of a disciplined cap on wage claims in return for non-cash benefits that were more generous than those on offer in other sectors. They were intended to bridge the divide between the potential remuneration pulling-power of highly skilled staff were they to transfer to other sectors, and what the University, cash-strapped as always, was capable of offering.
To now turn and deplete these provisions while simultaneously offering such a paltry increase in salaries can only be considered insulting.

David Pink outlines the reasons for the 48 Hour Strike

A lot of the propaganda that management has been putting forth about the strike has focused on wage claims. I think that this is a distortion. The majority of staff objections to the EBA claims are unrelated to pay. They relate to staff conditions that directly affect our education. I thought I’d reproduce the NTEU’s summary of management’s proposed changes in full, to help counter this PR:

1. MANAGING CHANGE
• Reduction in the obligations for managers to consult with staff about workplace change.
• Removal of processes that require managers to produce formal change documents.

2. REVIEWS COMMITTEES
• Abolition of ALL review committees from the Enterprise Agreement including those that deal with unsatisfactory performance, misconduct and redundancy.

3. ANTI-DISCRIMINATION
• Abolition of ALL commitments to prevent and eliminate discriminatory employment practices.

4. INTELLECTUAL FREEDOM
• Abolition of ALL Intellectual Freedom protections from the Enterprise Agreement including staff rights to participate in and criticise the governance of the University free from harassment, vilification and intimidation.

5. GENERAL STAFF CLASSIFICATIONS AND WORKLOADS
• Abolition of the right for general staff to be correctly classified.
• Abolition of the joint Union and management Classification Monitoring Panel, the right to bring classification disputes and the right of staff to seek reassessment of their classification.
• Refusal to provide restrictions on general staff being forced to regularly and systematically perform over time.

6. DIGNITY AND RESPECT
• Refusal to provide staff with enforceable rights in relation to bullying and harassment in the Enterprise Agreement.

7. UNION REPRESENTATION OF MEMBERS
• Removal of the NTEU as a party to the Enterprise Agreement.
• Removal of the NTEU’s rights to challenge Management decisions and take disputes.
• Removal of the NTEU’s rights to hold Members meetings.
• Removal of obligations that require the Management to consult the NTEU and the Management and Staff Consultative Committee in relation to University policies.
• Removal of rights that allow the NTEU to be physically present on campus including the loss of commitments by Management to provide the NTEU office space, access to internal University systems, authorised payroll deductions of union dues and time release for the Branch President, which enables them to represent staff.

8. ACADEMIC WORKLOADS
• Removal of the right of academic staff to a research allocation in their workload through the abolition of the 40/40/20 workload model.
• Abolition of work hours restrictions including the removal of clauses requiring that work duties be able to be performed within a 37.5 hour week and the annual work hours cap of 1725 hours.
• Removal of the right of academic staff to dispute their workload through the Central Workload Monitoring Committee.

9. CASUAL EMPLOYMENT
• Removal of restrictions on Management increasing casual employment.
• Removal of provisions that allowed casual staff to apply for conversion.

10. LEAVE PROVISIONS
• Reduction in Personal (sick) Leave entitlements for all staff to 20 days.
• Expansion of management rights to require a medical certificate for absences of 3 days or more; it is currently 5 days or more.
• Abolition of the separate entitlement to Partner Leave (currently 5 days) and its inclusion in Personal (sick) Leave.

Positive about the numbers

Well, that was a surprise. We actually shut down the university for a day.

It was an undeniable success. Between 300 and 400 people manned the pickets, and we turned away thousands of students and staff from entering the campus. We had an energetic rally of all the pickets at 12 (with 400 people meeting at City Rd footbridge), and then had a spontaneous student march on the Quad.

There was some debate throughout the day about the intensity of the picket lines. Some folks thought they should be symbolic, focused on persuading people to turn around, others thought they should be physical – focused on non violently physically blockading people, as well as talking to them. At various points people tried to pull me into that debate, I avoided being drawn in as best I could, and focused on providing support to the pickets rather than trying to tell them what to do, which wouldn’t have worked and would have only alienated people.
Perhaps the best bit was that after a certain time very early in the morning, not one person was able to get a car into the law car park. After traffic started banking up and affecting city road, the police had no choice but to close the entrance off. This was due to the action of a small picket outside the law school.

I’d like to make something very clear: the point of industrial action isn’t to try and gain support for the union’s cause. This is the fallacy of awareness campaigns. It’s not about convincing an apathetic student mass to view the EBA slightly more positively. That doesn’t make a difference.

The entire purpose of the strike was to shut down the university as a functioning enterprise for the day. We succeeded. I don’t apologise for making students and scabs feel uncomfortable if they decided to cross the picket line

This is the tactic via which workers have won every victory in pay, rights and conditions ever.

Building a fighting student movement

Welcome to Sydney Uni! My name is David Pink and I’m your SRC President for 2013.

The Students’ Representative Council is the peak representative body for undergraduate students at the University of Sydney. The SRC exists to defend and advance the interests of USyd students.

We are YOUR student association and we have a long history of fighting for student power. We stand for a free, fair and funded education, universal student unionism and a society free of discrimination and oppression.
We work with the National Union of Students who represent students at a university and government level. Our collectives are the hub of student activism on campus.

Our staff provide vital services, such as SRC HELP (academic, Centrelink and tenancy advice), a secondhand bookshop and a FREE legal service. We also publish Honi Soit, the only weekly student newspaper in the country.
My job is to make sure that your voice is listened to at every level of the university. I sit on the most important university committees (including Academic Board and the Senior Executive Group – Education Committee) and meet with university officials including the Vice-Chancellor on a regular basis.

You are coming to university during a time of tremendous changes. Federally, the Government has not done enough to reverse the Howard’s cutbacks and rationalisation of education. Fortunately after Howard, the student movement has seen some successes: the repeal of domestic undergraduate full fees was our biggest success of the past the five years, and the introduction of the Student Service and Amenities Fees to replace Voluntary Student Unionism was a step forward.

Sadly, Abbott’s education policy includes such wonderful things as fee deregulation and the abolition of post-study work visas for international students. Scary.

On a local level, management has been waging a year-long war to complete the logic of economic rationalism that has already conquered every other academic institution in the country. Last year, they tried to cut over 350 academic and general staff. The staff union (the NTEU) and the SRC managed to put that to a stop, but round two begins in March with a proposed teachers’ strike on the first day of semester.

The SRC stand in solidarity with our teachers’ efforts to fight attempts to strip back their conditions in the next Enterprise Bargaining agreement.

This is what the SRC would like our education system to look like:

Free Education: No HECS! No fees!

Fair Youth Allowance: Where ALL students live above the poverty line and 18 as the fixed age of independence.

Funded Education: An increase of 20% in base funding by the federal government in higher Education.

Real Student Representation: Students representing students at all levels of the university, including the SEG and more student representation on Senate.

Affordable Student Housing: No rents over $200p/w for accommodation owned and managed by the university plus an increase in the number of university owned beds.

An End to Overcrowding: A cap on tutorial sizes of 15 students per class.
An End to Voluntary Student Unionism: The SSAF is a start, however universal membership would guarantee our continued success fighting for your rights!

Fair Treatment of International Students: Full transport concessions, as well as a accessible post-study work visa

A University Free from Discrimination: No racism. No sexism, ableism, and equal opportunity for students from all backgrounds,particularly indigenous students.

I actually believe in a ‘user pays’ funding system. When we graduate businesses and governments use our skills – they should pay.

David Pink
2013 SRC President