Opinion //

So, you’ve heard that class might be cancelled this Thursday… What’s that all about?

The fight for staff is the fight for students, this is why students should support the strike on Thursday 9 March.

This Thursday, staff at Sydney University who are part of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) will be taking strike action. They’re doing so because their rights, which also affect our quality of education as students, are under attack.

University management have been cutting course options, sacking staff, increasing class sizes, and making work more intense for staff for decades. Casual tutors increasingly find themselves forced to work overtime to complete crucial tasks like marking students’ essays, and the university has repeatedly been found guilty of wage theft.

The education we receive has been thoroughly degraded by this process. When staff at the university have poor pay and conditions, it has a significant effect on the quality of our education. Ballooning class sizes, reduced quality of teaching and limited marking feedback are just a few of the most obvious symptoms of the deterioration of conditions for staff.

It’s not that management can’t afford to pay staff what they deserve, offer a variety of electives, or employ more professional staff to do the administrative work which keeps the university running. In 2021, Sydney University recorded a record $1 billion surplus. However, management is unwilling to spend this money to improve conditions for staff and students. 

They’ve offered staff an insulting “pay rise”, which would actually amount to a pay cut, given that inflation currently sits at 7.8%. They want to cut academics’ rights to have paid time for research. And they’ve gone backwards on promises to implement an enforceable Indigenous employment target. 

In response, staff have voted to take strike action. Last year saw six days of strikes, but management are still refusing to budge on the union’s key demands. On Thursday, staff will once again be shutting down the campus, which they usually make run, as part of their ongoing campaign. A second 48 hour and third 72 hour strike will be held in Week 6 and Week 10 respectively if management do not meet their demands for fair pay, a protection of the 40:40:20 model for teaching, research and administration, protection for casuals’ rights, and a real commitment to Indigenous employment targets. Because of the approach of university management — one of total intransigence — towards bargaining staff, the only option they have is to strike. Shutting the campus down is the only viable way to make it clear to management that staff are serious about their demands.

That one of the largest NTEU meetings in recent memory voted so strongly for what can clearly be seen as a serious continuation of the strike campaign shows that the fight against management is far from over, for both staff and students. With many universities — including USyd — recording record profits over the COVID period, the increasingly neoliberal and corporate structure of the modern university has meant that both staff and student demands have been totally ignored by management.

This is why the most important action that students can take on strike days is to attend a picket instead of class. Staying home is great, but strength in numbers on the picket lines is far better! 

In reality, not crossing this picket is the most basic action students should take. Attending class on strike days directly counterposes the interests of staff and students by reducing the effectiveness of the strike to begin with. When the picket stays intact, and the workplace remains shut down, the strength of workers is strongest. It’s a simple act of solidarity, and something that should be expected of anyone who even remotely cares for the advancement of staff and student rights. To cross the picket is an act of disrespect against striking staff: it mitigates the effect of their action by enabling the university to operate as normal.

As students, we should recognise this basic principle of solidarity, and realise that staff working conditions are student learning conditions. Rally your friends, message a classmate or sign up to the pickets from the Education Action Group page, because this is the only way we can fight for a better education, and a better world. 

See you at the pickets!

Join the student contingent here: https://facebook.com/events/s/usyd-students-support-the-marc/1361528417982862/