Students Put Pressure on USU to Close Operations on Strike Day through Online Petition
WORDS BY EDEN FAITHFULL
Last month, members of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) voted to take strike action on September 13 in response to extensive staff cuts announced by the university. Following this, the University of Sydney Union (USU) confirmed it would not shut down its commercial operations in support of the upcoming staff strikes on campus. Members of the Education Action Group (EAG) on campus have now submitted a petition to pressure the USU into closing its commercial operations in solidarity with the staff, students and members of the NTEU on strike day.
Daniel Ergas, SRC General Secretary, drafted the recommendations of the petition, and believes that the USU has the opportunity to change course.
“Shouldn’t we prioritise students’ learning conditions above the CEO’s bonus (it isn't publicly released, but we know that is something measured in the tens of thousands)? Shouldn’t we prioritise those students over the USU hosting an end of year dinner? At the very least, shouldn’t this be a pretty good reason to draw on the over $5 million in the USU reserves?”
The recommendations of the petition are threefold:
1. To call on the University of Sydney Union to close its commercial operations on strike days called by the trade union/s of and for University staff, and recommend that the Board of Directors of the University of Sydney Union consider at its next meeting a motion to this effect.
2. To call on the Board of Directors of the University of Sydney Union to conduct an entirely public and minuted discussion and vote on deciding whether to close its commercial operations on strike days, at a meeting publicly advertised for that vote.
3. To call on the Senate of the University of Sydney and the Board of Directors of the University of Sydney Union to support the amendment of the Constitution of the University of Sydney Union to include a commitment to work in solidarity with the trade unions of University staff.
These motions are at the center of what the EAG claims are the most essential actions needed to be taken by the USU, and claim that they will continue to put pressure on the USU to change their position in the lead up to the strikes next week.
Among those supporting the petition are former Board Directors Tom Raue, Liv Ronan and Liam Carrigan, as well as former USU Board Director and Treasurer Ed McMahon, who put his experience of the USU’s financial situation into practice by agreeing that the USU has the ability to absorb the cost.
“Any mobilisation of the membership to force meaningful action is to be encouraged; especially a mobilisation that arises from a question of principle, rather than an electoral popularity contest. 10/10 would sign," he said.
Cameron Caccamo, a USU Life Member, holds similar beliefs, saying “I love the USU – but I won't be silent while it refuses to support University staff. I'm signing the petition and I'm asking every USU member to as well. It is very difficult to convince students that they ought to care about staff working conditions when the USU Board doesn't."
“Continuing commercial operations during a strike plays into University management's hands – it helps them downplay the action, weakening the position of the staff and affects the learning conditions of students. Why would any organisation calling itself progressive and student-focused not support the strike?”
In order to do this, the petition further calls for the USU to amend section 3.1(a) of its constitution, which cites the Union’s objects. It currently reads:
The objects of the USU shall be to:
1. (a) promote the interests and welfare of the USU and the members of the University community
1. (a) promote the interests and welfare of the USU and the members of the University community which, where relevant, should include advocating for the learning conditions of University students and the working conditions of University staff through working in solidarity with their trade unions and other student organisations
The amendment aims to bring the learning and working conditions of students and staff to the forefront of the Union’s objects, therefore charging them to consider the importance of industrial action in forcing change where university administration might be otherwise unable to.
The petition goes on to address the various arguments that the USU has submitted in defense of remaining open during the strike, including the fact that the union will incur too great a cost by closing operations.
“The USU is in a strong financial position and can absorb the loss without financial hardship. It has approximately $5 million in its reserves. Just by selling its artworks (valued at $199 118 in its 2015 financial report) it could more than cover a full week of strike,” the petition says.
The petition needs two hundred signatures from Access card members to force the USU to convene a General Meeting of its members. This meeting may then call upon the Board to consider the motions, and pass changes to the USU's governing documents, which would still need to be ratified by the University Senate.
The petition in its entirety can be found here.