University bosses around Australia have escalated their campaign of intimidation against students and staff fighting job, class and wage cuts. The latest case has seen the Vice President of the University of Sydney Union (USU), Tom Raue, singled-out and banned from campus for the last month of his elected term.
Tom and others protested the campus visit of a cabinet minister whose May budget includes a 20% funding cut and would allow universities to set their own fees.
In 2012, La Trobe University bosses similarly used unproven allegations in a kangaroo court to target three students for their involvement in protests against the gutting of the Arts faculty. Now another 350+ jobs are to be shed there.
During the 2013 Sydney University EBA campaign, 11 supporters were targeted for arrest and charges by riot police, who were invited by management and worked hand-in-glove with private university security.
That the aim was intimidation and the undermining of striker morale was shown by the violence they inflicted. In just one incident, the police broke my leg and seriously hurt several others in a vicious and unwarranted pincer move against a picket line. Yet such incidents were used to ban people from a publicly-owned campus.
All but one of the arrestees have so far been cleared of any unlawful conduct, largely through video evidence, with one more case outstanding. One person was convicted on contradictory police evidence, and was unlucky enough not to have been filmed.
Unfortunately, it gets worse. Right-wingers on the University of Sydney Union (USU) board, including Labor students, then tried unsuccessfully to expel Raue for making public documents proving uni-police collaboration, thereby supposedly damaging relations between management and the USU! This underlines the necessity of building a genuine political alternative to Labor on the university campuses and beyond.
Such actions – and the attempt of the Sydney University of Technology to fire a union leader during their 2014 EBA negotiations – all have one thing in common. They are attempts to intimidate those fighting attacks on our education, jobs and working conditions.
They must be opposed in full and fought with complete staff and student union backing. That this has not always been the case at best shows the short-sightedness of the current batch of union leaders, or at worst their readiness to sell us out. If union leaders are not prepared to do their job and defend student and staff interests they should be replaced.
Unfortunately, given the depth of the 2014 budget attacks, and the growing movement against them, there is no doubt that kangaroo courts, violence and other forms of repression will be used again as a weapon by university managements.
Management can never be an ally of students and staff in the campaign against the budget, because they have fundamentally opposed interests to staff and students. Despite crying crocodile tears, they will be the mid-wives of all the cuts and fee hikes.
The best way to fight back against the budget measures is build a mass movement of staff and students aligned to others who are also campaigning against the government. The leadership of this movement must clearly explain that their best weapon is not to rely on the ALP, the Greens or any other group that accepts the logic of the profit system.
This movement must be built around demands for free education, funded out of the huge profits of big business. We need to fight for the wiping out of all HECS debts and a proper living allowance for all students. Joint student and staff strikes should be organised opposing Abbott’s marketisation plan for public education.
Side by side with fighting cuts to education it will become increasingly necessary to also fight to defend our democratic rights.
By W. van Leeuwen