Daniel Ergas and Isabella Pytka
As Billy Bragg put it in his classic 1913 banger, ‘There Is Power In A Union’, there is “power in the hands of a worker / but it all amounts to nothing if together we don’t stand”. Billy Bragg got it. He understood that trade unions are formed of, by and for the workers they represent; because, after all, as individuals here at USyd we are often atomised, swept along university currents that we barely understand, much less control; it is only when we come together that we have power.
On Saturday, our teachers and their union, the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) went on strike at Open Day. They went (and will continue to) go on strike due to the ongoing enterprise bargaining with the University. The Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) process is a long one – negotiations have been happening for about six months, and, despite the NTEU’s best efforts to come to an agreement, the University refuses to offer anything except a real terms pay-cut (!) and a continuation of the shameful practice of treating casual staff as expendable (denying them a pathway to permanency, or even the superannuation that all other staff are offered). The next strike will be September 13.
Why does it matter that you get involved? It is obvious enough that your teachers’ working conditions – the precarity of their work, whether they are paid fairly for their labour, and whether they are able to undertake the cutting-edge research that our university is known for – are your learning conditions, and determine how much you’ll get out of your time here. But what may not be obvious is that – if you scab (ie. attend class during a strike) – you are signalling to the university that you don’t care that much about the conditions they force your teachers to work under; you are proof positive that the university can do what it likes with impunity.
Impartiality is not an option here. You are either with your teachers – staying at home on strike days or, even better, helping out at a picket line (ie. the entrances to the university where staff and students will stand on strike days, telling students that the strike is on, and classes are cancelled) – or you are against them, weakening their collective power and letting the university get away with whatever it likes. The university needs you. It needs you for the big obvious reasons – you are its piggy bank – but it also needs you for the less obvious ones – for example, you are its reputation; if it loses you, and it thinks that you’ll tell your family and friends that this is a shit-hole, then it affects prospective enrolment, alumni donations, etc. and it is all downhill from there. Your decision on strike days matters. We can win the strike for our teachers, or we can lose it for them.
It is not only because the benefits accrue to you for it (!) but because what happens here, at our university, sets the trend for what will happen at universities all across the country.
Industrial action gets the goods. We all have an obligation to support it. See you on the picket lines.