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Nick Riemer: Speech from Cops off Campus Snap Action May 23

Nick Riemer is a Branch Committee Member of the NTEU and a member of staff in the English Department. He delivered this speech at the cops off campus rally at Sydney University on May 23 2013.

There’s an obvious point to make here, and I’m going to make it.

We saw reprehensible police violence on the pickets last week. Freya, Tom, Wynand, and others are bearing the scars.

We need their courage and determination, and that of everyone else who took a stand to defend the principle that the university is about nothing if it isn’t first about students and staff.

What happened last Tuesday is just one of the forms of violence which management have promoted and relied on since the job cuts of 2011.

The violence of power that can never say that it’s wrong.

The violence of telling staff that the rules have changed and that their jobs are suddenly at risk.

The violence of the threat of degraded conditions unless there are “productivity tradeoffs”.

Violence against education, from university managers who enjoyed far more favourable conditions when they were students, but contemptuously want to treat students  today like consumers.

Violence against the truth, the highest value that a university must uphold, as we saw most recently in management’s disgraceful response to the Dalai Lama.

And now, in our last two strikes, the violence inflicted by a thuggish and unbridled police force whose “assistance” Michael Spence has told us that he “welcomes”.

All these forms of violence must be condemned in the strongest terms.

Our pickets last Tuesday weren’t hard pickets in any real sense. They didn’t cut the campus off.

All cars had to do to get in was go around the corner from City Rd to any of the Parramatta Rd entries.

In other strikes, when a workplace really is blockaded, the police often don’t move in straight away.

But here police attacked the City Rd picket almost from the word go.

And for what? Because people on that picket were standing up for education, and making cars go around the corner. Same thing for other pickets later in the day.

We shouldn’t allow ourselves to be misled by management’s suits, by their polite language, by their continual protests about their commitment to the university.

Our assessment should be based on facts. And the facts I’ve evoked, and the facts of Freya, Wynand, and Tom’s injuries, and the other injuries we know about, tell one story –

This is a management that sustains itself on different forms of violence, against students, against staff, against the university.

Now, you might ask, could it really be that simple? I’m sure Michael Spence doesn’t feel violent; in fact, I think his expression of regret that people were injured is probably sincere.

Let’s not look at how Michael Spence might feel, or what he might say, but at what he does. On management’s side, what we have is violence in its different forms, physical and interpersonal – violence dressed up as rationality, dressed up as pragmatism, dressed up as idealism.

What about our side? What do we have?

We have solidarity. Solidarity is the real story of this campaign and it’s what we should concentrate on today.

Management needs its different forms of violence because their vision is predicated on competition, division, self-interest. Violence goes with those values like the hammer goes with the anvil.

Our solidarity is around the ideals of education, respect, research, social justice. Solidarity among and between the different groups striking and picketing: students, academics, general staff, community supporters. Solidarity with the future students and future staff whose situations will be shaped by what happens today.

For management’s violence we substitute our solidarity, the solidarity of people making sacrifices and supporting each other for a better university.

That doesn’t mean we won’t make mistakes. It doesn’t mean that we won’t sometimes go too far in what we say to people when they cross pickets.

We’re strong and honest and open enough to acknowledge those occasional misjudgements. But that’s all they are – misjudgements, made in the heat of the moment in an emotional and confrontational situation where we have been spat on and abused, and where people have driven at us in trucks and cars.

Those occasional misjudgements are nothing compared to management’s calculated violations of the basic principles that should underwrite a university. If only they would show the same capacity for self-criticism as us.

Solidarity is why we’re here. This campaign is about our conditions and our education, sure. But it’s mainly about the future of the university as the kind of institution society needs. Let’s not forget that.

Let’s be there on the pickets on June 5 in greater numbers than ever before to say that we will not allow managers to undo this institution and that our solidarity is stronger than their violence, whatever form we confront it in.


Nick Riemer is a Branch Committee Member of the NTEU and a member of staff in the English Department. He delivered this speech at the cops off campus rally at Sydney University on May 23 2013.

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