Anarchist intervention in the Sydney Uni strike
In the early hours of March 7 some anarchists broke into the abandoned St Michaels College building on City rd on the Sydney Uni campus.
(For three months in 2011 this large abandoned space, renamed the “Chapel of the Insurrection” was liberated from the Catholic Church, their bullshit morality and their vast landholdings. Inside dozens of comrades, students, street youth and wage slaves experimented with new ways of living and found love, laughter and joy. Inside we built barricades and outside a large vegetable garden.)*
For some of us it was our first time inside, while for others it was a happy return. After exploring the building and planning the day ahead, we dropped a massive banner off the roof which said:
“WE ARE THE UNI WE CAN SHUT IT DOWN. STAFF + STUDENT STRIKE”
A 12 hour strike had been called at Sydney Uni by the National Tertiary Education Union for Thursday March 7. It is the first strike at the Uni in over a decade and follows months of failed negotiations regarding the university’s new Enterprise Bargaining Agreement, which proposes to cut staff wage and working conditions, sick leave entitlements, reduce job security and sideline the unions as bargaining agents for the staff.
The neoliberal assault is part of the federal Labor government’s “education revolution”, a project to explicitly corporatise education institutions by forcing them into ever more ferocious competition for research funding and student numbers. At universities around the country, academics and staff have been sacked, class sizes increased and working conditions undermined.
In the weeks preceding March 7, anarchist students, staff and supporters heavily promoted the strike by plastering the uni campus and the surrounding areas in strike posters, stickers, chalk and graffiti slogans.
While the university attempted to counter the strike by calling on all students and staff to attend classes, some of us designed a poster that appeared to be an official University documents which declared the uni would be closed on March 7, and plastered it everywhere.
Starting at 7am, picket lines were set up at all seven entrances to the university with varying degrees of militancy. Pickets with a large number of union officials were most eager to simply hand out leaflets and let students and scabs through (after making an agreement with management that pickets would not block anyone), while pickets with more anarchists and militant unionists made it clear to everyone, particularly scabs that the uni was closed, and barricaded entrances with linked arms and large banners reading “STRIKE” “NO CLASS: CLASS WAR” and another reading “SPENCE: THE ONLY CUT WE NEED(featuring a caricature of the vice-chancellor, Michael Spence and two guillotines)”
Not content with merely picketing, some crews of anarchists roamed the uni, specifically targeting the libraries and lectures and managed to convince a number of students to leave the campus grounds and join the pickets. Over a dozen lectures were disrupted and the scab lecturers abused and called out for being the rotten scabs they are. Stickers reading “I AM A SCAB” were stuck on the doors of various professors and academic staff that chose to cross picket lines. Metal fencing was dragged across campus from a nearby construction site and used to blockade the library entrances and two banners were hung from the Parramatta rd footbridge entrance reading: "STRIKE OCCUPY TAKE OVER" and "STAB A SCAB CUT THE COPS"
In the afternoon, there was a march of 1000 staff and students through the university grounds chanting "one struggle, one fight, staff and students strike!" While various union bureaucrats and politicians made speeches, more militant strikers and supporters chanted “NO CLASS, CLASS WAR!”
Unsurprisingly there were union bureaucrats who angrily opposed the actions of militants and some collaborationist NTEU officials made vocal condemnations such as “You're ruining this for everyone.” Some unionists even colluded with police to untie and remove the banner hung off the footbridge reading: “STAB A SCAB, CUT THE COPS.”
Throughout the strike, the NTEU made clear its determination to block any political struggle against the Federal Labor government and to channel all anger into a campaign purely for the preservation of the union’s status, as the sole facilitator of management dictates.
NTEU speakers made no mention of the Labor government's current assault on working conditions (carried out with the backing of the Greens) and even invited Labor Senator Doug Cameron (a member of the very government implementing these attacks) and Greens’ senator Lee Rhiannon to address the rally. Its decision to give them a platform is a signal to management that the union will continue to collaborate with cuts to the conditions of its members, provided its position is preserved.
Doug Cameron even declared that their “wages, conditions, and career prospects” were only “short term issues” and that the major question in the strike was management’s “attack on trade unionism”. He concluded his demagogic speech by imploring all staff to join the union.
The various Leninist sects which dominate the so-called “rank-and-file” Education Action Group at USYD, including Socialist Alternative, Socialist Alliance, and Solidarity, all lined up in support of the NTEU's position.
We actively participated in this strike, not to merely support the demands of union bureaucrats but for our collective liberation against the neoliberal policies imposed on our lives. We will not reduce our dreams to the parameters set by a unionist struggle for mere concessions; we will make no demands of Spence or his administration.
Demands are always too big or too small, too unrealistic or too rational, we have no interest in playing their game of negotiations. We recognise this strike, like any strike, as a potential moment of rupture with capitalist normality, a moment of class antagonism, where people faced with a picket line are forced to take a side.
Many of us study at this degree factory; as we have no interest in taking classes from scabs, we will unapologetically call them out for what they are.
Some of us had hope in the fledgling movement of students opposed to university cuts last year. There were a number of occupations which culminated in a 1500 strong demonstration of staff and students to the Chancellery, which resulted in a failed occupation, a confrontation with police, three arrests, and apparently one broken arm on the side of the pigs. While there was much passion and determination in this movement, energy soon petered out as holidays then exam time came, and the much discussed student strike never came to be.
We encourage strikes and pickets at every workplace, everyday. Whenever they occur we seek to strengthen them, not simply to increase the likelihood that union demands will be met, but to foster class antagonism and more militant responses to neoliberal assaults. A 48 hour strike has been called for March 26-27 at USYD, where we intend to make our presence felt and do whatever we can to disrupt the functioning of the uni.
Our fight is for control of the university, not for control of the mechanism of the degree factory but for their abolition. We are in struggle to take over the physical space of the university, not just for the use of the relatively privileged staff and students, but to transform it into a communal space for all. We wish to establish a physical territory liberated from cops and commerce, a free space from which to wage attacks on the institutions and representatives of capital that surround it.
While some may mock this goal as unrealistic, we see it a mere first step. A free university under capitalism is like a reading room in a prison. We seek the complete destruction of capitalism and every social relationship that facilitates its reproduction. The university is a fundamental mechanism of the capitalist project, every year it produces qualified and disciplined workers for the mining, law and finance industries which suffocate our ability to live.
As Carlo Piscane eloquently stated in 1857 “We will not be free when we are educated, we will be educated when we are free.” The abolition of the university is only a first step toward the abolition of capital.
As inspiration we look to the student rebels from France to Chile, Greece to Montreal who have made their campuses largely unsafe for police to venture. Using a variety of militant tactics including the barricading of major roads, these young comrades have managed to consistently disrupt (if only temporarily) the flow of commodities and create living alternatives to the life of wage slavery that is offered to us.
Fuck their degrees, decrees and masters, and everything their world has to offer.
We want nothing less than everything.
*On September 16 2011, after the church broke off negotiations and had all utilities cut, about a hundred riot police invaded the uni grounds, shutting down half of the campus for an entire day. After an 8 hour eviction, seven squatters were arrested and charged.