Strikes & Pickets: A Beginners Guide

USyd staff are set to strike for 48 hours this Wednesday and Thursday (11-12th May). This protected industrial action was voted overwhelmingly in favour by members of USyd’s National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) last month and is a response to growing casualisation that has left a systematic mark of mistreatment of staff at our university. 

Under corporate university management, staff have been forced to undergo time-consuming bureaucratic measures, funding freezes, thousands of job losses, and insecure employment, among others. This voted action was in relation to the log of workers’ claims by the NTEU during the 2021-22 Enterprise Bargaining period, calling for an end to casualisation and pay increases above the inflation rate. 

The attacks on universities has resulted in a dire situation for academics who are consistently under the pump being overworked and underpaid. In the wake of a pandemic and years of remote teaching that have accompanied the need to adjust to a Covid-19 world, the attacks have continued. 

If all of this seems new to you, don’t worry. This guide will explain why industrial action has been taken, the importance of mobilising a movement like this and how students like yourselves can do your bit to stand in solidarity with our staff. 

Job Losses

A study commissioned by the NTEU in September last year reported that over 40 000 tertiary education jobs were cut during the pandemic. That figure equates to nearly 1 in 5 employees at university. 

The prolonged trend of casualisation at USyd has also been subject to staff frustration at all ends. In a report titled, “The Tip of the Iceberg”, by USyd Casuals Network and the NTEU, it found that 90% of participants performed unpaid work during Semester 2, 2020. 

The university has also admitted to wage theft totaling $12.75 million at the expense of mostly casual staff. Nearly 13 000 staff were underpaid during the periods of 2014-2020. The exploitative nature of casual contracts and the insecure work that our academic staff face is frankly appalling and fighting the corporate university through movements like strikes is crucial in showing our solidarity with staff and to improve the quality of our education. 

What is an Enterprise Bargaining Agreement? 

An Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) is an agreement made between an employer and employee- governing the pay and working conditions of staff. 

At USyd, this is renegotiated every four years and the demands of this period includes: more secure jobs, no forced redundancies, workload control, a fair pay rise and the protection of the 40/40/20 model (a percentage split to manage the workload for staff between teaching, research, and administrative duties). 

Picket Lines blocking access to the University

Strikes !!

During the last two rounds of enterprise bargaining at USyd (2013 and 2017 respectively), there have been strikes on campus. 

In 2013, management composed a wish list which included: cutting sick leave entitlements by 60%, the removal of references to anti-discriminatory employment practices, a salary increases of 2% (which was lower than the inflation rate of 2.2% at the time), and an introduction to surveillance methods which was at the interest of retaining bureaucratic control. 

University Chair Professor Raewyn Connell at the time wrote an open letter to the university stating, “The staff of this university are increasingly enmeshed in a thicket of anonymous online control systems — to document our courses, get permission to travel or to do our research, get our “performance” managed, and many other things — taking increasing slices of our time and energy.” 

In 2017 management once again attempted to undermine union negotiations by sending online polls to staff members (union and non-union) asking them to individually vote YES if they agreed with the terms offered in the EBA. Further proof that management will only seek their best interests, which comes at the expense of staff and students alike. 

During the 11th and 12th of May, the best way to support our staff is to:

1. Not attend class (in person or online)

2. Join staff on the pickets 

3. Tell your classmates. Bring your friends.

4. Rinse and repeat

What’s a Picket Line?

A picket line is a boundary made up of people on strike, usually done by workers standing in front of entrances to block anyone from entering. 

In our case, our aim is to stop anyone from entering campus to completely shut down the university and fight against management. By standing in solidarity with staff on the picket lines, we recognise that our interests are the same and show us the power that staff have. 

Why Should Students Support the Strikes? 

The common enemy behind our poor working and learning conditions is management. We’ve seen the tactics employed by them over the last two EBA and strike periods, and this is no different. Just last Friday, USU CEO Andrew Mills sent an email to staff encouraging them to sneak past the pickets and turn up to work regardless. They have senior managers set on campus to assist those wanting to come in and have advised staff and students to work from home. This completely undermines the strike building and movement that the rest of us have been working to mobilise. Shame on them. 

Staff working conditions are learning conditions. By withdrawing their labour power in protest, staff can fight for better conditions, draw on ample bargaining power and be staunchly militant to fight for the demands of the collective. 

Our academics have been on the front line of struggle for years on end and there has never been a more pressing time than now to strike alongside them. We resist the full scale casualisation of the university workforce and resist neoliberal management’s attempts to undermine the working lives of our staff. 

Their fight is our fight. 

See you all on the pickets. 

Additional Resources are linked below: 

Next EAG Event: Pre-Strike & Picket Briefing with the Education Action Group

Education Action Group

Students Support Staff Strikes FB Page 

Student Contingent to the Strikes!

USYD’s NTEU 

‘Our interests are the same’: National Day of Action for free education unites staff and students

‘We’re stuffed without you’: Staff call for students to support strikes

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