Redmond Barry's statue bearing an NTEU flag
The picture is of the statue of Redmond Barry – the quintessential aristocratic buffoon, and the man who sent Ned Kelly to the gallows, forever standing outside our State Library. But the flag he’s holding? Apparently after death, Mr Barry has become involved in the union movement!
It’s an NTEU flag, and the National Tertiary Education Union has called a strike today after several Melbournian universities failed to sign new contracts for many of their staff.
University managements have been mis-managing Australian universities for some time – there’s no dearth of academic articles analysing various aspects of this mismanagement (that’s the problem when you mistreat wordy-types), and various issues came to a head as the NTEU called it’s strike. I spoke to one person who has been kept on casual contracts with no job security for the past five years; one speaker referenced a friend who had been in that position for the past twelve. And I know academics who work far more than eight-hour days to keep their work going, and yet are paid part-time. These sorts of stories have become commonplace in the modern Australian university, and there’s little sign that things are going to change.
Interestingly, NTEU members seemed far more radical than the union leadership supposedly representing them, and it seemed that the strike rally ended rather abruptly, with no general call for a Speak Out – something which would certainly have kept most of there for another couple of hours!
I helped out at the RMIT picket lines today, and found that many people where generally sympathetic. Those crossing the picket line did so apologetically and with some awkwardness, a minority tried to tear down our posters and generally make nuisances of themselves, but such people are always in the minority. What was most heartening was that quite a few people i spoke to decided to turn around and take the day off, and i convinced some to come along to the rally later on.
All in all, the support from the ground up was far more impressive than the support from the top-down. If this had been announced further in advance, if those in the various ALP-aligned student unions had been willing to support it more fully, if the NTEU leadership had encouraged a speak-out and allowed the membership to dictate what happened, it could have been huge.