Call for direction action to defend higher education

“A national university strike is both politically possible and necessary”

University activists meet virtually today to condemn federal government HE policies and speak up for education as a social good.

“We recognise that we have no choice but to defend this crucial public institution ourselves, collectively. Traditional channels are slow to respond and limited in their actions,” the National Higher Education Action Network argues.

Gosh, who could they mean? Vice chancellors for sure, but the federal leadership of the National Tertiary Education Union could cop collateral damage.

Today’s meeting will consider direct action; a “national university strike is both politically possible and necessary.”

“With careful preparation over time, we think we can overcome the constraints of existing industrial relations legislation and make strike action possible again outside the limits of enterprise agreement negotiations,” Nick Riemer from the University of Sydney says.

This isn’t impossible.

Individuals or groups of staff at a university, who are members of the union but acted independent of it, could decline extra work, arguing, for example, management increasing workloads breached health and safety conditions.

It’s also astute.

It would be a bad look for a university to go to the Fair Work Commission demanding staff work as directed, in an environment of higher education job losses across the country.

And if the FWC told the NTEU to do something about the action, the union leadership, which is obliged to work according to the Fair Work Act could be in a tough spot. Officers and officials might face a choice of either not condemning informal industrial action they did not organise or being denounced by critics for not supporting university staff who have had enough.

If today’s meeting backs Dr Riemer’ suggestion, what happens next depends on how many supporters of the new network on a given campus are prepared to take their own industrial action.

The national leadership of the union commands the loyalty of all state divisions and almost all university branches. But at half a dozen, its opponents are influential – rejecting the existing strategy of agreements with universities that involve concessions on pay and conditions to protect jobs during the COVID-19 funding crisis.