The never-ending betrayals of Australia’s university unions lead to an election debacle


Growing disillusion among university workers at the increasingly serious betrayals inflicted by the National Union for Higher Education (NTEU) has led to only around a fifth of the union’s dwindling members voting in the month’s NTEU elections. last.

The results were a debacle, not just for the Labor and Greens leadership, which returned to power with small votes. Even more striking was the failure of various formations falsely named “Rank and File”, “New NTEU”, “Renew NTEU” and “NTEU Fightback” to move the regime in place by calling on members to try to “rebuild” or “renew”. the union discredited.

NTEU members on strike at the University of Sydney on 11 May. [Photo: WSWS]

Alison Barnes, a former member of the now defunct pseudo-left International Socialist Organization, was re-elected NTEU president with just 3,672 votes. This represented about 14% of the 26,563 national members, which has grown from about 31,000 since 2020. Only 21% of members voted. Barnes beat Fahad Ali, the new NTEU candidate, by polling 66.15% of that reduced vote.

Alongside Barnes on a “Strong United” ticket, New South Wales NTEU secretary Damien Cahill was elected as general secretary, despite winning just 3,199 votes, or about 12% of the membership. He beat New NTEU’s Anastasia Kanjere with 58.24% of the vote.

Kanjere, a “grassroots activist”, led the New NTEU ticket, standing on a politically bankrupt platform seeking to overcome the “crisis of confidence” in the NTEU.

Strong United’s Gabe Gooding was re-elected Deputy National Secretary, beating New NTEU’s Andrew Beitzel by securing 62.3% voter turnout.

The elections marked the first time national leadership positions had been contested in 20 years. They took place in the growing shadow of the NTEU’s infamous attempt to help campus employers impose up to 18,000 job cuts and 15% pay cuts in early 2020, when the pandemic of COVID-19 struck for the first time.

This was on top of decades of NTEU and other campus unions facilitating the corporatization and casualization of the country’s public universities, which has accelerated since the market-imposed, government-backed “education revolution.” unions imposed by the last Labor government.

Widespread outrage over the NTEU’s blatant betrayal of management led to the collapse of its misnamed “job protection framework” in May 2020. But the NTEU then pushed for similar sacrifices in individual universities, fervently opposing calls by members of the Committee for Public Education (CFPE), a grassroots network initiated by the Socialist Equality Party (SEP), for a united fight against the tsunami of dozens thousands of job cuts that resulted.

Like every other union apparatus, the NTEU has worked hand-in-hand with employers and the bipartisan ‘National Cabinet’ to push the burden of the pandemic onto the backs of working people – while billions of dollars have been poured into the coffers businesses – then pushed its members back into dangerous classrooms and offices.

The NTEU’s treacherous record has only worsened over the past two years, even as many universities posted record profits, topped by a $1.04 billion surplus at the University of Sydney. , and stepped up their job and conditional cuts on the back of the NTEU’s will. collaboration with management.

More recently, the NTEU desperately claimed a “historic victory” at Western Sydney University (WSU). He offers a deal with management that further reduces real wages and allows management to continue to exploit hundreds of low-paid casual workers. Although WSU branch president NTEU later described the deal as a “great compromise”, union officials are still nervously touting the nationwide “victory” in an attempt to avoid discontent and growing numbers of votes for strikes at universities across the country.

Anger and frustration are mounting among university workers as the NTEU continues to control the bankrupt corporate bargaining system, despite all university corporate agreements expiring well over a year ago.

This system of “bargaining” separates workers into individual workplaces, prohibiting unified struggles. Backed by repressive anti-strike laws, it was crafted by the unions themselves, under Keating’s Labor government in 1992. It is a way to atomize and stifle workers and entrench the role of union bureaucrats in formal labor relations mechanisms as enforcement agents of governments and big business.

Far from opposing this union straitjacket, the “New NTEU” and other pseudo-left groups that contested the elections offered to shore it up, as well as the NTEU bureaucracy itself. They have each called for “stronger” corporate bargaining campaigns to try to win “concessions” from individual managements.

Whatever their tactical squabbles, their concern was to keep the discontent of university workers from spiraling out of control of the NTEU and the entire labor-related union apparatus.

There was no demand from any of them, including the Socialist Alternative’s ‘NTEU Fightback’ and the ‘Rank-and-File Action’ coalition of Labour, Green and Solidarity members, for the restoration of the 40,000 or more jobs destroyed since 2020, or for opposition to face-to-face classes and workplaces in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite efforts to recruit more NTEU members to vote in the elections – even by organizing NTEU “recruitment stalls” – their calls have fallen flat. At the University of Sydney, where two such groups were most active, their candidates won the majority of positions on the union’s branch committee. But their first preference votes were less than 200 each. It was out of the approximately 450 members who voted, only 21% of NTEU members at the university.

Besides urging academics to “rebuild” the dilapidated machinery of the NTEU, these so-called “opposition” groups have made no criticism of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s government, indicating that they are ready to collaborate with him.

This is under conditions in which the NTEU and all other unions demand that wage increases be kept well below runaway inflation, in line with the demands of the Albanese government. His government also signaled plans to cut social spending, step up military preparations for a US-led war against China, and draft an “agreement” with employers and university unions to further restructure the higher education to meet business requirements.

Regardless of calls to “renew” the NTEU, its foul record is no aberration. It is the organic result of the pro-capitalist agenda of the unions, which have systematically suppressed workers’ struggles for decades, especially since the unions signed their agreements with the Hawke and Keating Labor governments from 1983 to 1996.

The increasingly bitter experiences of university workers actually expose the true nature of all corporate unions. These apparatuses are in no way workers’ organizations. Instead, they bind workers to the profit demands of employers, ignoring opposition and the interests of their own members.

Where unions once sought limited gains for workers – always within the framework of wage labor – the globalization of production since the 1980s has transformed them into police forces for the ruling class, dealing all attacks on working conditions. that employers require for “international competitiveness”. ”

Opposition to the union apparatuses is growing among workers, including academics, all over the world, but this can only be done through the formation of genuine rank-and-file committees, completely independent of the unions.

This is linked to the struggle for a diametrically opposed political perspective, that is, a socialist perspective, which rejects the dictates of the corporate elite and their political servants in capitalist governments.

All of the pseudo-left groups that contested the elections vehemently oppose this perspective, championed only by members of the CFPE and SEP as part of the building of an International Alliance of Base Committee Workers.

To discuss and join this fight, contact the CFPE:

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @CFPE_Australia


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