In response to the University of Sydney Union (USU)’s decision not to shut down operations in solidarity with staff strikes, the Sydney University Education Action Group (EAG) has launched a petition to requisition (read: demand) a general meeting of members of the USU.
The requisition entails two motions. The first seeks to amend 3.1(a) of the USU’s current constitution, which reads, “[The objects of the USU shall be to] promote the interests and welfare of the USU and the members of the University community”, so that it prioritises “working in solidarity with their trade unions and other student organisations”. The second contains three recommendations, calling for the USU to close down its operations, to hold a public and minuted meeting to discuss shutting down its operations, and to call on the University’s Senate and the USU’s Board of Directors to support the amendment to the union’s constitution respectively.
The motion also details potential avenues by which the USU could recoup their losses, such as selling its artworks “valued at $199,118 in its 2015 financial report”, or drawing on the “$5 million in its reserves”.
In order to requisition a general meeting of members of the USU, a petition with 200 signatures is needed; the meeting itself requires 60 members to be present for quorum (the minimum number of members needed) to be reached.
If a meeting is successfully requisitioned and the meeting is quorate, motions on notice at the meeting are passed by a simple majority, whereas changes to the constitution, such as those proposed in the first motion of the petition, require a two-thirds majority.
General Secretary of the Students’ Representative Council (SRC), Daniel Ergas, who drafted the petition, said, “While [the USU’s] achievements are many and its work is vital… it has, far too frequently, failed to live up to its promise and stand with its members”. Ergas praised the USU’s work elsewhere, saying, “No one disputes that the USU exists solely for the benefit of its members; it seeks an operating profit not for its own sake, but so that it can expand and improve the services it provides for all students”; he continued, “The USU has the opportunity to change course… Let’s get it done.”
Former USU board directors Liv Ronan, Liam Carrigan, Tom Raue, and Ed McMahon have expressed their support for the requisition.
Carrigan, who served as a board director from 2014 to 2016, said of the USU’s decision to stay open, “Student organisations should always stand with staff – and the USU is no exception.” Raue, whose term lasted from 2012 to 2014, said, “In 2012, USU senior staff warned that supporting the strikes would damage our relationship with university management. That seems to be the real motivation for the board’s decision, not finances.”
On the requisition itself, former director and treasurer Ed McMahon said, “Any mobilisation of the membership to force meaningful action is to be encouraged; especially a mobilisation that arises from a question of principle, rather than an electoral popularity contest.”
USU life member Cameron Caccamo has also expressed his support for the petition, saying, “I won’t be silent while [the USU] refuses to support University staff.” Caccamo stated that the USU’s lack of action “plays into University management’s hands… Why would any organisation calling itself progressive and student-focused not support the strike?”
Ergas told Honi that, while the constitutional amendment, if passed, would go straight to the University Senate to be considered, the second motion would need to be tabled for a future meeting of Board Directors, which would open up the potential for its recommendations to be rejected.
Honi has reached out to current USU Board President Courtney Thompson for comment.