Sixth strike day of year goes ‘harder’ after Provost Jagose’s ‘disgusting’ email

“We don't anticipate the campaign weakening at all, and whatever students can do for staff, we’re there for you a hundred per cent of the way.”

Photography by Amelia Koen.

University of Sydney staff and students shut down campus for a second consecutive day amidst management’s failure to meet the National Tertiary Education Union’s (NTEU) enterprise bargaining demands.

Strikers came out in force despite admonishing emails sent by USyd Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Annamarie Jagose, to staff and students earlier this week. 

“I am disappointed that the NTEU has chosen to take more industrial action. From the start, I have clearly advised that the University will not be influenced by industrial action, but only by constructive negotiation around the bargaining table,” the email to students read.

A student education activist who asked not to be named, praised the attitude of striking students. 

“I think [Annamarie’s] email was disgusting, but the response was exactly the right response. Students have gone even harder and staff sign-up to the pickets has increased after the email, so it backfired for Annamarie,” the student said.

Jagose’s email also reiterated the right of staff to hold classes in-person and on Zoom despite the strike, many of which were disrupted by students in offline and online ‘roaming pickets’, according to the student.

“We found out that around a hundred students were in the architecture building, so five classes. We went there and talked to them, and three out of five classes actually decided to walk out, which was a huge success for us.

“We get Zoom links from students, from staff, and we shut down those Zoom classes, and I think we got eight to ten classes yesterday. We’ve had a really big one shut down in engineering today as well,” the student activist said.

NTEU USyd Branch Vice President (General Staff) Jennifer Dowling described the effectiveness of a 48-hour strike as opposed to a 24-hour one.  

“There have been fewer people crossing the picket line this strike than there were previous strikes,” she said.

Throughout the day, fewer strike-breakers attempted to cross pickets at the Ross Street, City Road, Foot Bridge, Parramatta Road, Victoria Park, and ABS entrances than at previous strikes this year. At Ross Street, a group of college students were blocked from exiting campus, with strikers reinforcing the sentiment “no one in, no one out.” 

On Eastern Avenue, where the main contingent of strikers congregated, NTEU USyd Branch Vice President (Academic Staff) David Brophy lauded the importance of industrial action to a functioning university. 

“A university is a place that engages with political ideas; it’s part of society. For there to be debate and discussion among staff about the union, and for colleagues to be asking others colleagues to join the union to support union action, there shouldn’t be anything surprising about that,” Brophy said.

“[Union] membership has gone up by several hundred since the beginning of the campaign. I think it is usually the case that when the people see that the union is fighting for something that they support… a lot of people feel that they should be involved,” he said.

The support for strikes at the University of Sydney is setting the tone for student participation in union action on other campuses, according to SRC President Lauren Lancaster.

“The strike has shown again and again, that Sydney is not only a highly collectivised and highly motivated group of people but also that students will always stand with our staff and [that] continues to pave the way for union action after universities around the country,” Lancaster said. 

“We don’t anticipate the campaign weakening at all, and whatever students can do for staff, we’re there for you a hundred per cent of the way,” she said.

At Barff Road, Honi spoke to ANU students who came up from Canberra to show solidarity on the picket lines. 

“All the struggle that’s happening here is the same as ours because all of these Group of Eight (Go8) universities do talk to each other,” said Australian National University (ANU) student activist Mickey Throssell. 

“They have meetings nonstop, and we can tell that they are all taking the same stances and they’re all doing the same sort of shit obviously all across the country,” they said.

“It’s a phenomenon, this corporatisation of university, which isn’t unique here,” said Skye Predavec, another ANU student activist. 

Following a customary sausage sizzle, speeches commenced to close the day. 

Mark Goudkamp from the NSW Teachers’ Federation highlighted the historical efforts of USyd’s 2022 strike action. 

“We didn’t strike for about 10 years, but since last December we’ve gone on strike three times about our workload, which is becoming absolutely impossible for teachers,” said Goudkamp. 

He highlighted the elitism permeating the NSW Department of Education, which Mark Scott headed between his time at the ABC and USyd, and criticised the divide between public and private education. 

“While he [Scott] was full of rhetoric about making world class public education… he saw the constant erosion of our conditions, our pay, and our school facilities,” Goudkamp said. 

“Our public education system is underfunded. It is in crisis. But united, if we support each other, stand shoulder to shoulder, pre-school to PhD, we can push back both state and federal governments and win a public education system that is worth defending,” he said.

Goudkamp also criticised the teacher’s unions for calling off industrial action this Wednesday in response to NSW Labor Opposition Leader Chris Minns saying he would consider scrapping the public sector pay cut and reopen negotiations with the Union. 

“I think that bait was taken by the union and they called off the strike, much to the disappointment of teachers, TAFE teachers, Catholic teachers across New South,” he said. 

“On Wednesday, we still had a rally outside the Industrial Relations Commission, but it was from 7:30 to 8:15 before school without a strike. It meant that only those teachers who were close enough to Parramatta were able to attend. And instead of having five or 10,000 people on the street to Parramatta, we had about 400, because of that calling off the strike.”

Finally, Goudkamp called out Labor’s failure to improve working conditions for teachers and university staff: “Do not call off the industrial campaign. Do not swap our strikes just for an election campaign to get NSW Labor elected next March [at the election].”

The NTEU will vote in coming weeks on further strike action in Week 13 of this semester.